Starting Saturday, Minnesotans will have to be 21 or older to buy tobacco products.
The new law brings the state in line with federal law, which raised the purchasing age to 21 in December. E-cigarettes and vapes are included in the Tobacco 21 measure, along with cigars, chewing tobacco and cigarettes.
The Legislature passed Tobacco 21 in a bipartisan effort to keep tobacco out of the hands of young adults, who sometimes pass it on to children. The bill was passed by wide margins in both the House and the Senate, and was signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz in May.
Laura Smith, spokeswoman for the anti-smoking nonprofit ClearWay Minnesota, said the new law will save lives and help keep tobacco out of schools.
“We know that the vast, vast majority of smokers started before 21,” she said. “It’s about getting it out of social circles and trying to combat rising tobacco rates, especially when it comes to vaping.”
The law provides clarity for law enforcement agencies and retailers, who previously had to navigate two different state and federal purchasing ages, said Smith.
“This will allow them to make sure that we have strong enforcement and compliance,” Smith said.
Both state and federal laws come without penalties for underage smokers, shifting the responsibility onto retailers and limiting youth interactions with police.
“That’s really important as a public health measure, because we want to make sure that kids aren’t being punished for being addicted to tobacco when they were targeted too heavily by the industry,” Smith said.
Retailers who sell to underage youth will face a $300 fine for a first offense, followed by subsequently higher fines. Stores that continue to break the law could face a license suspension or lose their ability to sell, according to the law.
This change comes as teen vaping injuries in Minnesota are once again on the rise.
“I think that both the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent hospitalizations related to vaping-associated lung injuries really underscore the need for strong public health, especially when it comes to lungs,” Smith said.
Smith praised lawmakers who passed Tobacco 21 legislation during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as communities that have pressed for change.
“We saw a really strong response from local communities, and it became kind of a national movement because there are so many local communities in Minnesota and throughout the nation standing up and passing strong Tobacco 21 local ordinances,” Smith said.
Next, ClearWay Minnesota and other anti-tobacco groups hope to remove flavored tobacco from stores.
Zoë Jackson covers young and new voters at the Star Tribune through the Report For America program, supported by the Minneapolis Foundation. 612-673-7112 • @zoemjack