Minnesota bill would raise smoking age to 21 statewide

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A small but bipartisan group of Minnesota lawmakers on Thursday proposed increasing the statewide age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21, after several Minnesota cities independently raised the smoking age in the last year.

Five Minnesota cities have increased the age for tobacco sales since May, including major Minneapolis suburbs such as Plymouth and Edina, while five states have done the same in recent years. Flanked by school children wearing anti-youth-smoking shirts, several House Democrats and Republicans announced their proposal to make Minnesota the sixth state. They argued it would steer young adults away from smoking and eventually lower health care costs.

"Smoking has been with us for so long and so many people just shrug it off," said Edina Republican Dario Anselmo, the bill's author. "Yet, it kills more people in Minnesota than any preventable disease."

Tobacco use among Minnesota teens has dropped in recent years, but officials have noted an increase in e-cigarette use. Anselmo's bill would apply to e-cigarettes and other tobacco products. Adults younger than 21 wouldn't be penalized for smoking, but shops who sell them tobacco would face stiffer penalties.

"The state needs to act now to ensure we don't backslide," said Molly Moilanen, who co-chairs the Minnesotans for Smoke-Free Generation Coalition.

Advocates say the push for statewide restrictions is similar to lawmakers' passage of the Freedom to Breathe Act. The 2007 act banned indoor smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants amid health concerns over secondhand smoke.

"I'm hopeful that 10 years from now, we'll be remembering 'Tobacco 21' in the same way," said Minnetonka physician Caleb Schultz.

But Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he doesn't see widespread support for a statewide age increase this year. Gazelka, of Nisswa, said new tobacco laws aren't a top priority in a shortened session.

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