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House passes measure raising legal age to buy tobacco to 21

House Photography file photo
House Photography file photo

The House on Saturday voted to raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco and related products, including e-cigarettes, to 21.

“It is our turn to adopt this life-saving policy,” which has already been made law at the federal level, said Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina), who sponsors HF331, at a morning news conference.

The bill was passed 89-41 later in the day and now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) is the sponsor.

“The rates of teen vaping are astronomical” and have nearly erased two decades of progress in limiting tobacco use. But increasing the legal purchasing age can “interrupt the cycle,” as nearly 95% of addicted adult smokers started before the age of 21, Edelson said.

She said a statewide approach “is necessary” and would address confusion for retailers as well as law enforcement.

In addition to changing the legal age for purchasing tobacco and tobacco products, the bill would:

  • make people liable to administrative penalties for giving or otherwise furnishing tobacco products to underage people, in addition to selling them;
  • include a wider range of tobacco and nicotine delivery products, including e-cigarettes;
  • increase penalties for stores that sell to underage people and allow licenses to be revoked for a third or subsequent violation;
  • eliminate the petty misdemeanor for underage people who possess tobacco or purchase it with a fake I.D.; and
  • instead, require alternative civil penalties for underage people who purchase tobacco products, which can include tobacco-cessation programming and community service, but not fines or monetary penalties.

HF331 would make selling or giving tobacco to an underage person a petty misdemeanor for the first violation – a lower penalty than the misdemeanor in current law. Penalties for subsequent violations would be lowered from gross misdemeanors to misdemeanors.

“By taking a stand and saying that tobacco is not only the law of the land, but … the law of Minnesota … we are taking a stand, to say we are not going to turn the youth of Minnesota over to Big Tobacco once again,” said Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan).

House Floor debate on HF331 5/9/20

Rep. Sandy Layman (R-Cohasset) and Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) both spoke in favor of the bill, reflecting on their own struggles overcoming nicotine addiction and stressing the importance of keeping tobacco products out of the hands of young people.                         

Rep. Marion O'Neill (R-Maple Lake) said she agrees with the legislation in concept, but not in execution, saying that the increased penalties are too high for retailers who made an honest mistake.

Under the bill, a first violation would result in a $300 penalty, a second violation would cost $600, and later violations within 36 months of the initial violation would cost $1,000.

Currently, the penalties for retailers are, respectively $75, $200, and $250 for violations within 24 months of the initial violation.

Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley) said that the fines were “reasonable” and overdue for an increase, as they haven’t been updated in 23 years.

Rep. Jeremy Munson (R-Lake Crystal) said the bill also fails to provide exceptions for young people serving in the military and that it would not make accommodations for smokers and nicotine users who are not currently underage – but would be under the bill.

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