Lauderdale looks to upping tobacco purchase age

Many of Lauderdale’s neighbors have recently turned the city into an island when it comes to tobacco policy.

Minneapolis, Roseville and Falcon Heights, all this year, increased the age at which people can buy tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21.

St. Paul, the city that borders the 269-square-acre community to its south, has restricted the sale of flavored tobacco and menthol cigarettes to adult-only tobacco shops, as did Minneapolis, though St. Paul has yet to up the purchase age. Falcon Heights also put restrictions on the sale of flavored products.

However, Lauderdale is on its way to being an island no more after its July 24 city council meeting, where council members gave strong and unanimous support to increasing the tobacco purchase age in the city and restricting the sale of flavored and menthol tobacco.

Though there was no official council action on the matter, council members asked city staff to put together an ordinance that would change the age and look at restricting sales of flavored tobacco products, with the council voting on it at a later date.

With respect to increasing the age, a policy change called T21 by advocates, Mayor Mary Gaasch said it was a topic that’s on residents’ minds.

“When I’m out and about walking in the community and citizens reach out to me, this is one of the No. 1 issues people have talked to me about in the last six months,” she said. “So a lot of citizens in this city are really interested in T21.”


Youth use

The council’s show of support for changing city code related to tobacco was accompanied by a presentation by Katie Engman and Alicia Leizinger from the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota on tobacco use trends and what can be done to decrease youth tobacco use.

Perhaps the most galvanizing piece of information behind the T21 push — 11 Minnesota cities in total have increased the purchase age — is the Minnesota Department of Health finding that as of last year, youth tobacco use had increased for the first time in 17 years.

In 2017, 26.4 percent of state high school students reported using some form of tobacco or nicotine, an increase of nearly two percent over 2014 reporting.

Leizinger said the increase was driven by young people using e-cigarettes, also known as vaping, with many users preferring the flash drive-like Juul, which is so discrete that high-schoolers will use them in class. 

She also showed the council flavored cigars, which, like e-cigarettes, can come in such flavors as tropical fusion or mango. She also noted she’d bought the examples at the city’s two convenience stores, a BP and Super USA, which are both off Larpenteur Avenue at Highway 280.

“Across the board, it really seems like flavored products are really the product of choice for younger people,” Leizinger said.



‘It’s insane’

Engman explained the rationale behind T21 is taking tobacco out of high schools.

“High-schoolers are less likely to be around a 21-year-old but they know an 18-year-old,” she said, pointing out too that, according to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, 59 percent of 18-year-olds have been asked to buy tobacco products for someone younger.

Engman said law changes adopted elsewhere are focused on enforcement at tobacco sellers and making sure the purchase age laws are followed, not on making it illegal for young people between the ages of 18 and 21 to possess tobacco products.

Though elected officials in other cities that ultimately made the change wondered about its effectiveness, or whether it’s right to cut off an 18-year-old’s access to tobacco, which they can legally use while also voting and serving in the military, the Lauderdale council members had no such qualms.

Beyond the feedback from residents, Gaasch said her father had died from smoking-induced cancer when she was 9 years old and that she fully supported making changes to city code. 

Council member Roxanne Grove said to her shock that all of her teenaged grandchildren use tobacco, and while council member Kelly Dolphin said she had no personal connections to the harm of tobacco, she too was shocked by the prevalence of young people using it.

“It’s insane to watch kids consume that kind of product, in public, with nothing to be done,” she said.

A primary care physician spoke about the financial costs of tobacco use during the public hearing on the issue, while the owner of the Super USA store said he largely supports the proposed changes.

Said council member Jeff Dains, “We’re rarely a pioneer in these things, probably because we are smaller, nevertheless, piggybacking on what’s been done is very important.”


– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at or 651-748-7813

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