The movement to require tobacco buyers in Minnesota to be 21 years old reached the State Capitol on Thursday.
Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, introduced a bill that would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products statewide from 18 to 21.
"It's very clear that preventing tobacco purchases under the age of 21 is the best way to keep new kids from becoming addicted smokers and all the lifelong devastating effects that come with that," she said.
The bill comes just days after the Edina City Council made that city the first in Minnesota to raise its tobacco sales age to 21. The ordinance will go into effect July 1.
Like the Edina ordinance, Nelson's bill would raise the sales age for all tobacco-related products, including delivery devices such as e-cigarettes.
It would also increase the penalties for retailers who sell tobacco to underage customers. A vendor would be charged $250 instead of the current $75 for selling to an underage person, $500 instead of $200 for a second violation, and $1,000 instead of $250 for a subsequent violation.
But the penalty to underage buyers who use false IDs would be softened. While they are now guilty of a misdemeanor, the bill would make it a petty misdemeanor.
Since the deadline for committees to act on bills was March 31, Nelson does not expect a hearing on the bill this session. But she hopes to build on the momentum of the Edina ordinance and continue the conversation across the state.
Gov. Mark Dayton issued a statement Thursday saying he supported increased penalties for illegal tobacco sales but was undecided about raising the legal age to buy tobacco.
"I support the goal of reducing smoking by young Minnesotans," he said. "However, people who are 18, 19, and 20 years old are legally adults, who should generally be allowed to make the same personal decisions as older adults."
Only two states, California and Hawaii, have raised the tobacco sales age to 21.
Sen. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, tweeted his support for the bill Thursday morning.
"Excellent idea and happy to co-author," he wrote. "Allows all of Minnesota to improve health and reduce health care costs!"
While cigarette smoking among high school kids has decreased over the decade, e-cigarette use has increased sharply, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Smokers who are 18 to 20 make up 2 percent of all tobacco sales nationwide, according to Tobacco 21, a national campaign to raise the sales age.
Brittany Adams, a spokesperson for a subsidiary of tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., did not comment on the Minnesota bill. "We believe legislation through Congress ... is the appropriate approach to address this issue," Adams wrote via e-mail.
In 2016 and 2017, the tobacco industry has spent at least $486,000 to influence Minnesota government, according to documents filed with Attorney General Lori Swanson.
Anne Mason Yoder, senior public affairs manager for anti-smoking nonprofit ClearWay Minnesota, said she expects pushback from tobacco. "We can fully expect opposition from the tobacco industry on this," Yoder said. "They rely on Minnesota kids for their next generation of profits."
Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753