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Our View: D.C., St. Paul can follow on tobacco age

With Duluth joining the ranks late last month, at least 430 local governments in 23 states now have raised the legal age for purchasing tobacco to 21. In Minnesota alone, 22 local governments have taken the action in the name of getting vaping an...

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Cameron Cardow/Cagle Cartoons

With Duluth joining the ranks late last month, at least 430 local governments in 23 states now have raised the legal age for purchasing tobacco to 21. In Minnesota alone, 22 local governments have taken the action in the name of getting vaping and tobacco products out of our high schools and in an effort to head off lifelong nicotine addiction. Nearly all smokers and users of tobacco - 95 percent of them, according to the American Lung Association and others - start before turning 21.

While raising the age makes good public-health sense, this doesn't make any sense at all: A hodgepodge checkerboard of local laws has emerged in recent years with neighboring communities oftentimes far less restrictive. It's confusing for consumers, unfair for businesses in localities doing the right thing, and bad for everyone who values clean air and who wants to do all they can to avoid cancer and other life-threatening ailments.

For uniformity, to even the playing field, and for the health of everyone, lawmakers in both St. Paul and Washington, D.C., can follow Duluth and other localities in embracing legislation that has come to be known as "Tobacco 21."

Encouragingly, both the state and federal governments have considered or are considering proposals to move in that direction.

In our nation's capital, Congress took up the tobacco age as recently as 2017, touting a report by the Institute of Medicine (the health arm of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine) that said raising the smoking age to 21 would prevent about 223,000 premature deaths, as the Associated Press reported.

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Even with all they have going on currently, congressional members and senators owe it to Americans to follow through now with a federal law that could apply coast to coast, helping to clear the air from Oregon to Florida.

In St. Paul this session, a trio of bills has been introduced to take on tobacco addiction, and all enjoy bipartisan support. The measures include a statewide Tobacco 21 law that would come on the heels of legislation to raise taxes on tobacco and to otherwise discourage smoking and tobacco use.

Progress is being made. The 13.8 percent of Minnesotans who smoke is down from 14.4 percent just four years ago, as the Rochester Post-Bulletin reported this week.

More progress can come next from St. Paul and Washington, D.C. Lawmakers can heed the warning of the U.S. Surgeon General who declared vaping an "epidemic." And they can follow the lead of Duluth, Hermantown, and hundreds of other local governments from coast to coast who've already taken action to snuff smoking, vanquish vaping, and hinder harmful tobacco use.

Related Topics: OUR VIEWDULUTH CITY COUNCIL
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