ST. PAUL — A bill raising the age to purchase tobacco products, including vaping and e-cigarette products popular with young people, is on its way to Gov. Tim Walz's desk.
The Minnesota state Senate on Wednesday, May 13 passed the bill, often dubbed "Tobacco 21," by a 43-21 vote. The House had already passed it on May 9, making the bill's next stop the desk of Walz, who has already pledged to sign it.
The bill brings Minnesota into compliance with the federal government's own Tobacco 21 law, which President Donald Trump signed into law in December after administration officials called youth e-cigarette use an "epidemic." Minnesota's House File 331 prohibits retailers from selling tobacco and e-cigarette products to those under 21, enforceable by a $300 penalty on first offenses and more subsequently.
Some senators on the floor said the bill didn't go far enough, saying the young adults who purchase or possess tobacco products underage should be penalized if they are caught, similar to the state's under 21 alcohol laws. An amendment to establish penalties for underage consumers was defeated, though, with senators arguing that young people should be deterred from tobacco with education, not legal punishment, and retailers should ultimately be held responsible for their sales.
Other senators said the bill went too far, arguing that if a legal adult can get married, buy a house or serve in the military, the state shouldn't prevent them from smoking or vaping.
The bill ultimately prevailed, as senators cited exponentially increasing rates of youth nicotine addiction and consequential health risks thanks to products like vape pens, which have been reportedly marketed to young consumers. Lawmakers also said the bill will help clear up local law enforcement agencies' confusion over enforcement after the federal law passed.
Molly Moilanen, a co-chair of the advocacy group Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, said in a written statement following the vote that the bill is "the first step toward reversing the youth tobacco epidemic." The group also backs efforts to increase tobacco product prices and ban flavored tobacco products in hopes of curbing youth nicotine addiction.