The push is on to add St. Paul to the growing list of Minnesota cities and counties that have raised the tobacco sales age from 18 to 21.
Several of the city's district councils have endorsed the campaign, and on Tuesday, a receptive St. Paul school board heard the case to raise the age.
A chief concern is the popularity of e-cigarette use by young people, which was described Tuesday as an "epidemic."
Nineteen percent of high school students reported using vaping devices, according to a 2017 state Department of Health survey.
"It has spiked," William Moore, a health educator for St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health, told school board members. "You may well see that go up even higher."
A year ago, Minneapolis voted to raise the tobacco age to 21.
The St. Paul City Council hasn't taken up such a measure, but it did agree last year to cap the number of tobacco retail licenses in the city.
School board members heard Tuesday that 7.6 percent of ninth-graders and 14.9 percent of 11th-graders in Ramsey County used e-cigarettes in 2016, far more than the number who smoked cigarettes.
Five Ramsey County communities — Roseville, Shoreview, Arden Hills, North Oaks and Lauderdale — have raised the tobacco age as part of a Tobacco 21 movement that has spurred action by 31 cities and counties statewide.
Proponents said the nicotine in e-cigarettes is a health concern and that raising the purchase age also could help cut off availability to younger children. Nearly 60 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds have been asked to buy cigarettes for someone younger, studies have shown.
State legislative action is being sought, too, but the proposal did not make the cut in a state Senate omnibus bill, making passage this year unlikely, said Kristen Ackert, policy and research manager at Association for Nonsmokers-MN.
"We're still working on these local ordinances," she said.
A school board committee heard Tuesday's report, and its chairman, Steve Marchese, signaled the board is likely to back the measure when it votes later this month.
"I applaud this effort," he said. "I think it's really important for us to get behind it."