T21 Advocates take aim at Bloomington, Minnesota

T21 Advocates take aim at Bloomington, Minnesota

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."


  • Josh

    This could really be a moment of true progressiveness for Minnesota, where we draw the line in the sand and ban cigarette sales for people under 21 but keep vaping age restrictions the same. Unless they can provide us with proof or at least reasonable suspicion that vaping is comparably harmful to tobacco to persons 18-21 then this will do nothing but prevent current smokers age 18-20 from having a vaping alternative to quit

  • Nathan

    Jordan, THR4L said there was no conclusive evidence. and your articles support that.

    Your first article talks about the potential loss of sales; which isn’t the concern as the article states is only 2% annually. They show a decrease but fail to account for the effects of smokers who started before age 18 and under T21 could not access vaping, which is shown to help smokers quit at almost double the rates of other quit methods.


    The second article, published by the same journal that still stands behind the now completely de-bunked “formaldehyde” article, simply states that doing something had an effect.
    The data is incomplete seeing as there is no evidence the surrounding counties took different steps (such as increased education) to combat youth smoking.

    That’s like saying if 1 out of 17 people in a group runs while the others stand still, they have moved.

    Keyword here is “conclusive” evidence.

    THR4L says that education will go further to prevent youth smoking and T21 leaves smokers caught in the gap out to dry.

  • Jordan

    THR4L is lying when they say there is no evidence that this will stop children from smoking. They are an activist organization founded to promote vaping, not a credible source of information.

    According to a recent study of these laws in the American Journal for Public Health, they work in decreasing the amount of children who start smoking. Almost 60% of those aged 18-20 have been asked by children under 18 years old to purchase tobacco products for them. By removing their ability to supply minors with tobacco, a quantifiable reduction in harm occurs.

    Am J Public Health. 2014 November; 104(11): e18–e21.
    Published online 2014 November. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302174
    PMCID: PMC4202948
    Retail Impact of Raising Tobacco Sales Age to 21 Years

    Here’s a second study showing that when comparing communities that institute a 21+ tobacco law, smoking rates decrease in minors compared to communities that do not institute such a law.

    Kessel Schneider S, Buka SL, Dash K, et al Community reductions in youth smoking after raising the minimum tobacco sales age to 21 Tobacco Control Published Online First: 12 June 2015. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2014-052207

    Keep in mind that the tobacco industry fought when legislation was passed to prevent minors from purchasing tobacco products in the 80s and 90s. Don’t work in their favor today because you benefit as well.

  • Skip Murray

    We couldn’t agree with you more! Education is the #1 way to reduce youth smoking. According to the American Lung Association the main reason kids start smoking is because their parents or other adult in their life smokes. By helping adults quit smoking, we will create a domino effect that will help reduce youth smoking. The best way to “save the children” is to save the adults!
    ~ Skip Murray
    Minnesota Smoke Free

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