SAINT PAUL, MN — Today, House DFL lawmakers introduced a new comprehensive plan to prevent youth tobacco use.
In 2017, the number of young Minnesotans using tobacco rose for the first time in 17 years due to a surge in e-cigarette use. Since then, the crisis has only gotten worse. According to the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey, 26.4 percent of Minnesota 11th graders reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days. That represents a 54 percent increase from the 2016 survey. Usage rates also climbed among 8th and 9th graders.
“Minnesota has been a leader at curbing youth tobacco use and access to tobacco, and we’ve seen incredible results,” said Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL – Eagan). “Unfortunately, we’re starting to lose ground to the tobacco companies. It’s time to treat e-cigarettes like the serious health threat they are. As a parent and a legislator, I’m committed to doing all I can to keep young Minnesotans safe and healthy.”
Vaping-related injuries are being reported in Minnesota and across the nation, but many young people remain unaware of the health risks associated with e-cigarettes. The Minnesota Student Survey found that 76 percent of Minnesota 11th graders believe that there is either no, slight or a moderate risk to using e-cigarettes.
“The surge in vaping use among young people has undone years of progress in falling cigarette smoking rates,” said Rep. Alice Mann (DFL – Lakeville). “Young people are unknowingly causing long-term damage to their health and wellbeing, and as both a doctor and a legislator, I feel compelled to act. That’s why we’re introducing legislation to combat this crisis and hold Big Tobacco accountable.”
“Nicotine is the chief substance in both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes, and it’s extremely addictive,” said Rep. Kelly Morrison (DFL – Deephaven), a practicing physician. “We must take bold steps now to prevent permanent damage to the health of current and future generations.”
Raising the tobacco sales age from 18 to 21 is a key piece of the plan to combat youth tobacco use. By reducing access to tobacco products, this policy helps prevent children and teens from starting to smoke or vape in the first place.
“We passed Tobacco 21 in the House this year, and there’s no reason we can’t get this over the finish line next session,” Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL – Edina) said. “This isn’t a partisan issue, it’s about protecting our kids.”
Tobacco companies have used child-friendly flavors and misinformation about the safety of vaping products to market e-cigarettes to young Minnesotans, particularly those in communities of color. The House DFL’s new plan addresses these tactics by banning flavored products and creating an Office of Youth Prevention and Protection that is dedicated to keeping children and teens safe and healthy. The new office would carry out a statewide education campaign to inform Minnesotans about the health risks associated with e-cigarette use.
“The harmful effects of smoking, vaping, and other tobacco use among young people are well documented, as are the tobacco companies’ coordinated efforts to target them,” said Rep. Rena Moran (DFL – St. Paul). “Youth of color have been especially coveted by Big Tobacco and through flavored products, they’re working to addict a new generation. After years of progress in reducing youth smoking, we’re committed to redoubling these efforts to ensure all kids can be healthy as they grow and develop into young adults.”
The new plan also includes proven tools to help existing smokers quit. It increases taxes on cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and other tobacco products and expands cessation resources that help Minnesotans break free from addiction.
“Every single kid in my class knows someone who is vaping in and out of school,” said Robert Hanson, a teacher at Henry Sibley High School. “Educators across Minnesota are trying to tackle youth e-cigarette use, but we need an all-hands-on-deck response to this epidemic. None of us can be with our kids every hour of the day, so we have to reduce the availability and the appeal of tobacco products.”
Azu Esparza, Yasiel Santiago-Castillo, and Trae Villafuerte joined DFL legislators for the announcement. These Henry Sibley High School students are leaders of a student group called Anglos Latinos Motivated to Succeed (ALMAS).
“Smoking and vaping take a toll on our futures long before serious health problems start showing up,” the ALMAS members said. “Taking these extremely important steps would help keep my friends and classmates safe and healthy.”
A fact sheet with more information about the House DFL’s new comprehensive plan is available here.