Attempts to raise the tobacco sales age from 18 to 21 have so far failed to take off outside the Twin Cities after one city recently stamped out the idea.
Edina became the first Minnesota city to raise the sales age earlier this summer, and Detroit Lakes was poised to be the first outside the metro area to follow suit. But in a 6-2 vote last week, the City Council nixed the proposal, with some city leaders expressing concern about how it would affect local businesses.
While Detroit Lakes has several tobacco shops and gas stations, City Administrator Kelcey Klemm said city leaders were concerned that raising the legal age limit to 21 would simply prompt 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds to shop at stores just outside the city.
“While they support the concept … they’re concerned about how effective it would be,” he said. “They’d prefer to see it at a statewide level.”
That’s similar to concerns expressed in southern Minnesota, where efforts to pass “tobacco 21” proposals have been delayed in Mankato and North Mankato. The neighboring cities planned to introduce ordinances in July, but both disagreed with a provision in the proposed ordinances. Now, both city’s leaders are meeting in October to discuss next steps.
“I don’t think necessarily this is going to be a unanimous decision on both sides of the river. … [On] an issue like this we have to be more collective in our decisionmaking,” Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges said, adding that some leaders “view this as a policy the state would make, like underage alcohol consumption.”
California, Oregon and Hawaii have raised the tobacco sales age to 21.
In Minnesota, a state bill to raise the age didn’t get off the ground in the Legislature’s last session, with even Gov. Mark Dayton wary of raising it. He said that 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds are legal adults “who should generally be allowed to make the same personal decisions as older adults.”
Elsewhere in Minnesota, Perham and Frazee city leaders say similar ordinances have been discussed, but no proposals have yet materialized.
Mike Sheldon, spokesman for nonprofit ClearWay Minnesota, isn’t surprised that the ordinance has been slow to take off since Edina took action, arguing that it would limit the availability of tobacco to teens. St. Louis Park followed with an ordinance that takes effect Oct. 1.
“It’s disappointing they decided not to go forward with it,” he said of Detroit Lakes. “We’ll continue to educate people.”