Before the Minneapolis City Council voted one by one Friday to raise the age for buying tobacco to 21, two members took a moment to make it personal.
Council Member Lisa Goodman shared how her mother started smoking at age 12 and developed a two-pack-a-day habit that devastated her health.
“What used to be a very vibrant woman who played tennis and got out a lot is pretty much now confined to being able to go out one time a day,” Goodman said. “Tobacco is an addiction and it takes a lot to be able to beat it. ... Not starting in the first place is what would have lengthened my mother’s life.”
Council Member Phillipe Cunningham said he still struggles with his decision to start smoking as a teenager. “My vote yes is on behalf of my 15-year-old self,” Cunningham said.
The city ordinance to restrict tobacco sales, including vaping products, to those who can legally buy alcohol goes into effect Oct. 1. Minneapolis is joining seven other Minnesota cities and 300 nationwide that have raised the tobacco-buying age in an effort to discourage young people from picking up the habit. Edina was the first Minnesota city to raise the age, soon followed by several others.
Supporters greeted the passage of the ordinance with applause. Mayor Jacob Frey signed the ordinance, which was championed by Council Members Jeremiah Ellison and Andrew Johnson.
“The momentum is on our side, and I think we are going to see a bipartisan coalition at the State Capitol that hears your voices, too,” Frey said at a news conference after the vote where green-clad supporters stood behind him. “Don’t you think so?”
“Yeah,” supporters shouted.
“This policy is going to shave off a layer of kids who aren’t necessarily out there vigorously pursuing tobacco, but then still end up with access to it anyway,” Ellison said after the vote.
Johnson called the law a “common sense policy” that he hopes will change people’s lives.
“Everyone in this room knows somebody that has either died unnecessarily young or has been struggling with disease or addiction to tobacco products,” Johnson said.
Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins said she voted for the ordinance because the tobacco companies advertise disproportionately to communities of color and young people.
“This is a symbol of resistance,” she said.
The ordinance faced the most significant pushback from e-cigarette dealers. Meghan Shea of the Coalition of Neighborhood Retailers said the ordinance may hurt business enough to squeeze retailers out of Minneapolis.
Public health authorities said they’re alarmed by the rapid growth in vaping among teens.
In 2017, more than 19 percent of Minnesota high school students used e-cigarettes, up notably from three years ago, while use of traditional cigarettes is at an all-time low of 9 percent, said Laura Oliven, tobacco control manager for the Minnesota Department of Health.
The ordinance “is going to change access for young people, particularly kids of color,” said LaTrisha Vetaw, health policy and advocacy manager for NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center and a member of the Minneapolis Park Board. “You don’t see very many 12-year-olds hanging out with 21-year-olds.”
Derral Pratt, who turned 21 in December, testified for the ordinance before the council last week. He thinks the ordinance will protect the next generation.
“I have family members that have gotten cancer from smoking cigarettes their whole life,” Pratt said. “I just want to prevent that from happening for any of my young cousins or any other youth from picking that habit.”