North suburbs continue to up tobacco purchase age

The north suburbs have led the way in Ramsey County when it comes to increasing the tobacco and e-cigarette purchasing age from 18 to 21. (Thomas Bonneville/Lillie Suburban Newspapers)

Little Canada latest to go to 21


You now must be 21 years old to buy tobacco products or e-cigarettes in a large block of the north suburbs, and more communities are poised to increase the purchase age from 18 in the near future.

The Little Canada City Council on May 8 voted to join neighbors like Roseville and Shoreview with an older purchasing age, two weeks after the community came out and vigorously supported the move during a public hearing.

During that hearing, Mayor John Keis was the only council member to voice clear support for the action. He said his father died of lung cancer and that his mother would have too, if not for other health issues.

The night of the vote, council member Tom Fischer shared a similar story, saying both his parents died of smoking-related cancers.

“I couldn’t see across the room for smoke,” he said. “I detest the idea of smoking.”

However, Fischer abstained from voting for the ordinance change, looking to the state to take the lead when it comes to Tobacco 21, the name supporters of the age change have given to their movement. His remaining council colleagues passed the change unanimously.

“We’ve got 853 cities in our state,” Fischer said. “We need something bigger.”


Out of schools

Though a state-wide age change bill passed in the DFL-controlled House, a similar bill appears stalled out in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Impetus to increase the tobacco purchase age has grown in recent years, with 32 Minnesota cities and two counties, Pope and Beltrami, making the move.

In Ramsey County, it’s been the north suburbs that have led the way in making the age change — beyond Little Canada, Arden Hills, Falcon Heights, Lauderdale, North Oaks, Roseville and Shoreview have gone to 21, largely within the last year.

The core of the metro is increasingly becoming a Tobacco 21 zone — Edina, St. Louis Park, Bloomington, Plymouth, Richfield, Minnetonka and Minneapolis have upped the age. State law still allows for 18-year-olds to use tobacco or e-cigarettes, and none of the city ordinances supercede that.

Some cities have paired the age increase with regulations and bans on flavored tobacco, which are seen as being marketed toward kids. Cities like St. Paul haven’t gone to 21, but have put in place flavor restrictions.

One of the stated aims of the Tobacco 21 movement is to effectively take tobacco products out of high schools, the reasoning being that secondary school-aged kids likely don’t know someone who’s 21.

The increasing use among youth of e-cigarettes is one of the chief drivers of the Tobacco 21 movement. An eye-popping detail found in the 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey was that for the first time in 17 years, tobacco use among high-schoolers, mainly driven by e-cigarettes, had increased. One in five students reported using an e-cigarette in the survey.

Teenagers who spoke during public hearings on age changes in a number of north suburban communities said kids don’t often recognize the risk of nicotine addiction when it comes to e-cigs. 

Teens also said that e-cigarette use was rampant in schools, even in the classroom, though one Roseville Area High School student who testified in Little Canada last month said she’s seen a decrease in in-school use since last year when Roseville passed a Tobacco 21 ordinance.

There’s been little pushback against making age changes, mainly from small tobacco retailers and others involved in the product supply chain. Roseville reached out to its 28 licensed tobacco sellers ahead of its council action on increasing the age to 21 last year, and only one seller showed up for a planned meeting on the matter.


City to state

More north suburbs are either looking to take action on or discuss changing their tobacco purchase age. 

New Brighton held a May 14 public hearing on the matter, held after press time for this edition of the paper, and planned to vote on an age change ordinance if council members were happy with its language that night. The Mounds View City Council plans to discuss an ordinance June 3. Per a St. Anthony Village official, its city council has yet to discuss Tobacco 21.

Little Canada resident and Roseville Area School Board member Curtis Johnson spoke at his city’s Tobacco 21 public hearing last month, praising the council’s action.

“As a resident, I’m happy the city has decided to do what’s best for the children,” Johnson said. “This is something that’s been brought forward as a valid state issue, but so many issues start at the local level. Little Canada has joined so many other cities. We need to protect your youth from these products. I look forward to seeing this as a state law.”


–Mike Munzenrider can be reached at or 651-748-7813. Bridget Kranz contributed reporting to this story.

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