DETROIT LAKES, Minn.—Raising the legal age limit for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21 has been a priority for anti-smoking groups across the state of Minnesota for several years now — but it's been a tough sell so far.
Currently, only the metro-area cities of St. Louis Park and Edina have such ordinances in place. That may soon change.
One of the agenda items for the Detroit Lakes City Council is a public hearing Tuesday, Sept. 12, on a city ordinance raising the tobacco sales age from 18 to 21.
"Detroit Lakes is one of the first cities in greater Minnesota to consider an ordinance like this," says Molly Moilanen, director of public affairs for ClearWay Minnesota, a statewide, nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing tobacco usage and exposure, through a combination of mass media education on "the horrors of tobacco" and providing "quit plan" services for those looking to break their tobacco addiction.
Though Frazee and Perham currently have similar ordinances under review as well, they and other communities in the region "are looking to Detroit Lakes to be a leader on this issue," adds Jason McCoy, a tobacco prevention coordinator with PartnerSHIP 4 Health. "Once one city steps up, the rest will most likely want to follow."
Both McCoy and Moilanen are part of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a statewide coalition of over 50 health and nonprofit organizations "that have come together with a common goal of reducing youth tobacco use," said Moilanen.
"Our ultimate goal is to pass a statewide Tobacco 21 law, but to do that we must look to local communities to take leadership, by passing local T-21 ordinances that will build support for a statewide policy."
McCoy said that while youth tobacco use is currently at 10 percent statewide, "in rural areas, it's much higher than that. We know it's at least 17 percent, but we have had reports that it's even higher."
Surveys and studies have shown that the main way kids under age 18 get access to tobacco is through their 18-21 year-old friends, Moilanen said.
"It's common for 14-17 year olds to date or hang out with 18 and 19 year-olds," she added. "It's been shown that the majority of underage students' access to tobacco comes from that social source ... T-21 would take that away."
In addition, she added, it's between the ages of 18-21 that young people's brain chemistry really begins to change, and addiction sets in.
"Ninety-five percent of adult smokers today say they started before they were 21," added McCoy. "If they don't get hooked by age 21, (the tobacco industry) has likely lost a lifetime customer. That's our goal."