As superintendent of the Monticello School District, the health and well-being of youth in our community is my top priority. Healthy kids are best set up to be successful students, and to start down a path to a healthy, happy, successful life.
One of the foremost concerns regarding the health of teenagers is tobacco use. Despite the fact that tobacco companies continue to aggressively market their deadly products to young people, I am encouraged by the growing number of communities nationwide, including the city of Edina right here in Minnesota, that have raised the tobacco sales age to 21. With Wright County having discussions about this proposal, I wanted to offer the district’s support of this push to raise the legal age.
There are two reasons that are repeated often when discussing the benefits of raising the tobacco sales age to 21, and they both make a lot of sense. First, 95% of current smokers started smoking by 21. This is both a startling number and one that should give us hope. If we can keep young people from starting to smoke before they turn 21, they will likely never start. Second, raising the age from 18 to 21 would remove legal purchasers of tobacco from the social circles of younger teens. No matter how much time the district puts into discussing the negative effects associated with smoking, older friends at school remain a key source of tobacco for younger teens. In fact, research predicts a 25 percent reduction in smoking initiation among 15 to 17-year-olds following an increase in legal purchase age to 21.
A recent study published in Minnesota Medicine predicted the long term impact of raising the tobacco age to 21 in Minnesota. They found that there would be 30,000 less Minnesota youth smokers over the next 15 years. If positively impacting the lives of 30,000 children isn’t reason enough to do something, what will ever spur change? I believe that it is time for action right here in Monticello and Wright County and I am hopeful that if we help start the trend other cities and eventually the state will follow.
As an education system and community, we want to be leaders in doing what’s best for our students and our families. We believe what is best for those that matter most to us is that our local and state leaders should take action now to ensure the health and safety of our youth. Our kids deserve nothing less.
Superintendent Eric Olson
Monticello School District