Minnetonka became the 12th city in Minnesota to raise the minimum tobacco sales age from 18 to 21 after a unanimous vote at the Sept. 17 council meeting.

“Being able to cast a vote tonight in favor of Tobacco 21 is probably going to be one of the easiest votes I’ve ever cast in my public service,” said Councilmember Tim Bergstedt.

Minnetonka joins Edina, St. Louis Park, Bloomington, Plymouth, North Mankato, Shoreview, Falcon Heights, Minneapolis, St. Peter, Richfield and Roseville. Nationwide, six states and more than 330 cities have passed Tobacco 21 policies.

The new sales age becomes effective Jan. 1, 2019. The city council also voted in favor of housekeeping provisions, such as a requirement to visibly post the legal sales age.

The council voted against a proposal that would have prohibited the sale of flavored tobacco products in convenience stores and gas stations and restricted sales to adult-only shops. Therefore, flavored tobacco products will still be available at all locations for purchase by individuals ages 21 and older.

“I do get concerned about reaching a little too far as a city council and, while I don’t support the sale of flavored products, I think that prohibiting them for adults 21 and older, that’s a bit of an overreach. I think that Tobacco 21 solves the problem that we’re trying to solve,” said Mayor Brad Wiersum.

The council also worried too much regulation would hurt local businesses.

“I’d rather save lives than cause economic hardship to gas stations and convenience stores,” Bergstedt said.

That proposal was denied on a 4-2 vote, with Councilmembers Patty Acomb and Bob Ellingson casting votes in favor of removing flavored tobacco products from convenience stores and gas stations.

Many council members said they wished the sale age was raised at the state level but agreed that change starts at the local level.

“A statewide change would be the best way to handle it. I do think that. But I think in order to get there, it takes a group of cities being leaders, and I’m glad that we can count Minnetonka amongst them,” Acomb said.

The vote comes at a time when the federal government is cracking down on Juul, a brand of electronic cigarettes popular amongst teenagers. Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called youth e-cigarette usage an “epidemic” and gave manufacturers 60 days to prove they can keep devices away from minors. If the manufacturers can’t halt sales to minors, the flavored products could be removed from the market.

Youth tobacco use has risen for the first time in 17 years, mainly because of a significant increase in e-cigarette use, according to the 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey. Almost 40 percent of high school students have tried e-cigarettes and, of high school tobacco users, 67 percent of them reported using flavored products.

Many high schoolers in favor of Tobacco 21 took to the podium to provide examples of how rampant vaping has become amongst their peers.

“It has become part of school culture to vape at events like football games … I try to stay away from it, but it’s so prevalent that it is unavoidable,” said Kaitlyn Ziegler, a senior at Hopkins High School.

Even middle schoolers vape.

“I want to make you aware that vaping is affecting even seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders … Some students at the junior high take the bathroom pass to go to the bathroom just to vape and then go back to class. I know a few students who don’t go to the bathroom at all at school because they don’t want to be around vaping,” said Jens Dohse, a sophomore at Hopkins High.

Copyright © 2018 at Sun Newspapers/APG Media of East Central Minnesota. Digital dissemination of this content without prior written consent is a violation of federal law and may be subject to legal action.

I am a reporter for the Sun Sailor, covering Minnetonka, Excelsior, Shorewood, Tonka Bay, Deephaven, Greenwood, Woodland and the Hopkins School District.

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