Edina soon could become the first Minnesota city to require tobacco buyers to be 21 rather than 18.
The City Council on Tuesday night voted to draft an ordinance and schedule a public hearing on the proposal, intended to curb youth tobacco use.
“If we can have a direct local impact on the health of our residents and [try] to do something that’s positive ... we’ll take that step,” Edina Mayor Jim Hovland said.
The cause is being spearheaded by Dr. Caleb Schultz of the city’s Community Health Commission, who recommended raising the buying age during a presentation to the council Tuesday.
“It is easy to choose prevention over such small sales and profits,” Schultz said. “We should be setting an example for the rest of the state.”
Schultz said the commission was spurred by Tobacco 21, a national campaign to raise the minimum buying age. The campaign is supported by Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation (MSFG), a coalition of state health organizations.
Edina would be one of more than 210 cities in the country to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products, according to Tobacco 21. Hawaii and California adopted the same legislation statewide last year.
Schultz said he was not aware of other cities in Minnesota looking to adopt Tobacco 21 legislation.
“I’m kind of surprised that no local municipalities have yet passed this policy,” said Anne Mason Yoder, senior public affairs manager for ClearWay Minnesota, which is part of MSFG.
Edina has 18 licensed tobacco vendors, most of them convenience stores and gas stations, along with its three municipal liquor stores. The city has no standalone smokeshop, Community Health Administrator Jeff Brown said.
‘Fireworks yet to come’
According to sample ordinance language drafted with help from the St. Paul-based Public Health Law Center, a legal network specializing in tobacco control policy, Edina would raise the purchasing age for all tobacco-related products, including smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes. The penalties for selling tobacco to those under the age limit would remain the same.
The health commission report cited an article published in Minnesota Medicine earlier this year, arguing that raising the buying age for tobacco would have a significant impact in the state.
Children under 18 who smoke often obtain tobacco from adults under 21, according to the article. Raising the buying age would lead to fewer younger people smoking, and therefore fewer people becoming addicted.
In 2013, almost 13 percent of Edina 11th-graders reported having used tobacco in the previous 30 days, according to the commission report. “By raising the age to 21, you’re essentially getting tobacco out of high schools,” Schultz said.
A spokesperson for Edina Public Schools declined to comment on the proposal but said the district endorses healthy lifestyles for students.
Members of the City Council on Tuesday weighed whether the issue of tobacco sales should be addressed by the state or separate municipalities.
“It might seem like more of a global issue, but it’s absolutely something we can enact and ... actually create a cascading effect where we can hopefully have more impact in the state of Minnesota and beyond,” Council Member Mike Fischer said.
Council Member Kevin Staunton said Edina has acted on past issues concerning health or the environment. “It would at least force the hand of the Legislature,” he said.
City officials said they had no expectations on whether the ordinance will be adopted. Hovland and other council members said they first want to hear different viewpoints.
“I still haven’t heard from any folks in the tobacco industry,” Hovland said. “I expect there will be fireworks yet to come.”
Tobacco industry representatives did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.
No ‘huge impact’ on access
At least one Edina merchant said raising the buying age for tobacco would affect her bottom line, even though she doesn’t sell to many young adults.
“It’s not dramatic, but a business is a business,” said Anita Lang, who co-runs Lang’s One Stop Market and carries tobacco products behind the counter. “Basically what it will do is hurt the little business person.”
Lang said she could see young adults going to neighboring Bloomington or Richfield to buy tobacco. Restricting sales in Edina, she said, “won’t make a huge impact” on their access to tobacco.
Lobbyists have recently tried to loosen Minnesota’s tough stance on tobacco, and are likely to push a reduction on cigarette taxes this year. The state raised cigarette taxes an additional $1.60 per pack in 2013, with an automatic tax increase scheduled each year.