Several years ago, Bloomington Minnesota became the first city in the state to pass a sampling ban that targeted established businesses in the city. The new ordinance banned the use of devices in all businesses in the city including existing vape shops. Several city council members expressed pleasure and excitement at the city's accomplishment; believing the measure would go a long way to preventing vaping from reaching the area's youth.
Which brings us to today
Three years and thousands of disgruntled vape customers later, the neighboring city of Edina became the first city in the state to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21. "T21" advocates believe raising the minimum age will reduce youth tobacco use by preventing 18 year old students from purchasing for their younger classmates. They contend this would reduce the number of youth and young adult smokers in Minnesota by more than 30,000 in the next 15 years. Campaigns have been launched in other cities such as Detroit Lakes, Robbinsdale, and most recently Bloomington.
Almost immediately, anti-smoking groups including Clearway MN began making the push for other cities to fall in line. The Bloomington Sun Current published this letter from Megan Whittet; in which she, a Clearway employee, urges passage of T21 in Bloomington on the basis that it would protect her family from the scourges of big tobacco.
At a study session last week, Bloomington City Council members lamented that another municipality had beaten them to passing tougher tobacco laws. In fact, they took the discussion so far as to bring up possible criminal possession charges for 18-20 year olds who violate the proposed ordinance.
The case against T21
T21 in its recent and current proposals makes no distinction between traditional combustion cigars and cigarettes, and its modern, smoke-free alternative: Vaping. Edina may have little to no direct access to vaporizers, but Bloomington has two well known businesses located right on Lyndale Avenue. Under current state definitions and the Edina ordinance, no distinction is made between Tobacco products that contain actual tobacco and Vapor products which contain none.
Tobacco Harm Reduction 4 Life is a charity organization created to propose a more specific and detailed approach to harm reduction. THR4L says the T21 approach is "based in hopeful speculation," stating there is no conclusive evidence that T21 laws are effective. They say that will leave adults between ages 18-20 who already smoke cigarettes without a viable alternative until they reach age 21, effectively forcing them to stick with their tobacco habit rather than legally purchasing a smoke-free alternative.
The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior reports that anti-smoking education has had a much greater effect (smoking decline of 20%) than “exacting more responsibility from [the tobacco] industry” (smoking decline of 6%). According to their study, education campaigns are to thank for fewer young people smoking, not restrictive regulations and taxation laws.
Jeff Stephens, director of state policy for the American Cancer Society in Ohio and Shelly Kiser, advocacy director for the American Lung Association in Ohio, say “youth-access laws are among the least-effective ways to prevent minors from getting hold of tobacco products”. THR4L also points to past prohibitions in the US and their lack of success.
"Tobacco-control groups need to focus their resources on accurate education-based approach rather than trying to social-engineer behavior through arbitrary prohibitive measures that have a history of failure."