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Northlanders lobby for tobacco restriction

Courtney Clark knows how attractive tobacco can be to a young person. "I'd be around it, and sometimes I would think, 'It's kind of cool,'" she said. "You have that cool smell, there's that cool taste to it and also sometimes you see celebrities ...

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Courtney Clark knows how attractive tobacco can be to a young person.

"I'd be around it, and sometimes I would think, 'It's kind of cool,'" she said. "You have that cool smell, there's that cool taste to it and also sometimes you see celebrities ... (smoking) in the music videos and you'd think, 'Oh wow, that's pretty cool.' "

That was a few years back, when Clark was in middle school and early high school. Her friends sometimes had access to flavored cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other products, and she'd occasionally give them a try, she said.

Now 22 and nearing graduation in public health at the University of Minnesota Duluth, the St. Paul native has become passionate about keeping tobacco away from teenagers.

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She's so passionate that she was scheduled to gather with more than 40 other Northland youth and young adults at the old Lincoln Park School at 6 this morning, board a bus and head to St. Paul to lobby on behalf of legislation designed to help accomplish that purpose.

The legislation is called the Tobacco 21 bill. Introduced by state Rep. Dario Anselmo, R-Edina, it would prohibit the sale of tobacco to anyone younger than 21.

The Northeastern Minnesota delegation will join hundreds of other youth and their allies from across the state in a march from the Minnesota History Center to the State Capitol today before meeting with lawmakers to advocate for Tobacco 21 and more funding for smoking cessation services.

In a news release, the American Lung Association noted that five states and more than 290 U.S. cities already have bans for sales to under-21-year-olds in place. In Minnesota, that includes the cities of North Mankato, Edina, St. Louis Park, Bloomington and Plymouth.

Clark, who is an intern for the lung association, said if such a ban were approved statewide it would prevent 18-year-old high school students from supplying their younger friends with tobacco that they purchased legally.

"Those are the people that are giving the underage youth these products," she said. "It does make the accessibility to these products easier, and as we know, these products are deadly. I don't want this cycle to continue with the next generation."

The Minnesota Department of Health reported last month in a survey that the percentage of the state's high school students who said they used tobacco had risen for the first time in 17 years.

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