Edina mulls raising tobacco purchasing age

Edina might raise the legal age for buying tobacco to 21, setting a new bar for public health.

Community Health Commission member Dr. Caleb Schultz presented a tobacco prevention work item, called Tobacco 21, at the March 7 meeting.
Tobacco 21 aims to create a smoke-free generation by raising the legal purchasing age and preventing younger addicts.

“The vast majority of adults who are addicted to tobacco and smoke started at a young age,” Schultz said. “A majority started before 21.”
Schultz said that the important factor of moving the age to 21 is removing the streamline from 18-year-olds to high students.

“You are essentially getting tobacco out of high school,” Schultz said, adding that high school students play sports, hang out and even date 18- and 19-year-olds. “That is not as common with 21-year-olds.”

By eliminating the 2 percent of sales, not enough to take down any local business, Schultz and other Tobacco 21 proponents believe that the driver for “almost all” later addiction will be removed.

While 200 other cities and the states of California and Hawaii have raised the legal age, Edina would be the first city in Minnesota if a future resolution is approved.

“Tobacco 21 is still on the frontier of health policies,” Schultz said. “That is where Edina should be. We should be on the leading edge for kids living healthy lives.”

The draft resolution included language that would include all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and other vaping products.

Councilmember Bob Stewart, while admitting the facts presented were compelling and “100 percent” accurate, asked whether or not it’s the city’s role to begin a patchwork of tobacco laws instead of a statewide push in the Legislature.

Schultz shared the example of Needham, Massachusetts, who approved a similar law in 2004, with the intention of being followed up by neighboring suburban Boston communities.

“That didn’t happen. Needham was an island [for Tobacco 21]. But the result was a 50 percent decrease in current smokers in high-schoolers and a 65 percent decrease in frequent smokers,” Schultz said, adding that there was a “significant reduction” despite being surrounded by communities where tobacco was still readily available for those 18 and older.

“My philosophy in general is I don’t … want city council to act on something that is more of a global issue. When I first saw this in the packet, I rolled my eyes,” Councilmember Mike Fischer said. “But the facts are indisputable. If we were to do something like this, we would have a healthier environment for children in our own community. This is absolutely something we can act on locally and have an impact right here, right now … I’m very open to at least looking at how we can push this forward.”

City Manager Scott Neal gave the example of his time in Eden Prairie in 2002 when it first floated the idea of banning smoking in restaurants.

“At that point, that was going to be the first ordinance of its time in Minnesota.” Neal said. “It was intentional that they wanted to create a patchwork … so the state would be essentially forced to settle this issue.”

Councilmember Kevin Staunton said by drafting a resolution for a future public hearing, the council could get input from business owners and community members to find out if a more restrictive tobacco ordinance would be good public policy.

The council unanimously supported drafting a tobacco resolution for future discussion.