Tobacco age change ordinances gaining traction in north suburbs

The Roseville City Council enthusiastically directed city staff March 26 to put together a draft ordinance raising the age to purchase tobacco products in the city to 21.

Roseville’s potential move towards raising the age, which would still be months off, is in line with other recent Minnesota cities’ code changes that upped the tobacco-buying age in order to head off youth tobacco use.

Bloomington, Edina, North Mankato, Plymouth and St. Louis Park have passed ordinances increasing the age at which people can buy tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21, in the past year. 

Shoreview, which more than a year ago placed restrictions on flavored tobacco sales, is targeting a May 7 city council meeting to look at raising the age for purchasing all tobacco products. Falcon Heights has a May 9 public hearing scheduled to look at an ordinance to do the same, and Minneapolis, the state’s most populous city, is planning a May 14 hearing on the matter.

Legislators in the House and Senate have also introduced bills that would increase the age statewide, but no matter what happens at the Capitol, Roseville council member Bob Willmus said at his council’s March 26 meeting he was ready for the city to act.

“I certainly don’t want to wait for the Legislature to take action on this,” Willmus said ahead of the unanimous vote to draft an ordinance. “This is something I want to go ahead and pursue on our own.”

The Roseville council members’ discussion about the potential ordinance change was brief and lacked specifics because state law requires 30-day notice to tobacco retail license holders about ordinance changes that could affect their licenses, according to Assistant City Manager Rebecca Olson.

Groups like Ramsey Tobacco Coalition, which is a part of The Association of Nonsmokers-Minnesota, argue that tobacco-buying age law changes, pushed as part of a campaign called T21, prevent young people from ever starting smoking or using tobacco because it reduces their access to such products. 

Roseville’s discussion of a change came just more than a month after the release of a Minnesota Department of Health survey that found for the first time in 17 years, youth tobacco use had increased amongst state high school students.

The survey found that 26.4 percent of high school students reported using some form of tobacco or nicotine, up from 24.6 in 2014.

Electronic cigarettes were the driver of the increase, MDH found, with youth e-cigarette use increasing 50 percent since 2014. The latest survey found 1 in 5 high-schoolers use an e-cigarette.

Such age-raising ordinances pertain to all tobacco and nicotine products, e-cigarettes included.

Falcon Heights City Manager Sack Thongvanh said that concerns about raising the age amongst his city’s council members included the fact that things like voting and joining the military are predicated on being 18. Council members in other north suburbs have argued cities should wait for change at the state level, or at least in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Roseville City Council member Lisa Laliberte urged some caution about expectations with such an ordinance. 

“You swat this mosquito and they’ll just go use something else,” she said, mentioning the bills in the Legislature, which, according to Katie Engman, program director of the Ramsey Tobacco Coalition, despite interest from lawmakers, aren’t expected to go anywhere this year because of the short legislative session.

Willmus again swatted away the necessity of waiting for the state to move.

“We’re going to keep going without them,” he said.


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

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