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Anti-tobacco groups eye raising purchasing age to 21 in Minnesota

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MOORHEAD – Minnesota tobacco control advocates may propose raising the legal age for buying cigarettes to 21 years old.

Hawaii, New York City and more than 30 municipalities in Massachusetts have raised the legal age for buying tobacco, and the experiment will be closely watched, said Andrea Mowery, vice president of ClearWay Minnesota, a foundation that promotes prevention and cessation of smoking and tobacco use.

ClearWay Minnesota, funded by the state's share of the 1998 tobacco settlement, will only move ahead with a proposal if a wide consensus of health groups and public health groups agree the approach has merit, Mowery told The Forum editorial board.

"We're part of a broad coalition," she said, and listed the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and American Heart Association as frequent partners. "There's a very collegial and collaborative process."

More than 9 of every 10 smokers start before the age of 19 or 20, a reality that is behind the nascent movement to raise the legal age for buying tobacco, Mowery said.

Earlier efforts, which public health officials credit with reducing smoking rates, have centered on raising tobacco taxes and banning smoking in public places.

Teenagers are especially sensitive to price increases spurred by tax increases, which have been shown to be the most effective means to date of curbing youth smoking, Mowery said.

"Youth and young adults are much more sensitive to price," she said.

Smoking prevalence continues to decline in Minnesota, where the smoking rate stood at 14.4 percent last year, down 35 percent since 1999 and the lowest rate ever recorded, according to the Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey in 2014.

"So really significant progress," Mowery said.

The national adult smoking rate is 19 percent. In North Dakota, the adult smoking rate was 21.9 percent in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Persistent gaps remain in smoking rates, with those who have less than a high-school education the most likely to smoke, with a rate of 28.6 percent.

Young adult smoking decreased by 6.4 percentage points over the past four years, dropping to 15.3 percent from 21.8 percent, the only noteworthy decline for any age group.

"That is quite a stark departure," Mowery said.

But that drop coincided with a sharp spike in the use of e-cigarettes, which jumped from a rate of 0.7 percent to 5.9 percent from 2010 to 2014.

The age group most likely to smoke is the 25- to 44-year-old bracket, with a rate of 19.7 percent for men and 18.7 percent for women.

American Indians smoke at a rate that far surpasses the overall population—a rate of 59 percent, quadruple the 14.4 percent overall rate.

"On the whole we're making good progress," Mowery said, adding that challenges remain.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to

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