MOORHEAD — The recently released 2020 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey indicates Minnesota children are still vaping at very high rates, with one in five high school students using e-cigarettes and 70% of high school and middle school users reporting signs of nicotine dependence.
The survey and its findings will be a part of presentations that Jason McCoy, tobacco prevention coordinator for Clay County Public Health, plans to make to the Moorhead and Dilworth city councils on Monday night, March 8.
McCoy's presentations will also touch on recent changes in federal and state law concerning youth and tobacco and he will answer questions officials may have regarding how local health ordinances may be amended in response to changes in federal and state law.
In late 2019, the federal government raised the minimum age of who can legally buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 years, making it illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product — including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes — to someone under 21.
On May 16, 2020, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed a bill raising the state's tobacco sales age to 21, reinforcing the federal tobacco law and allowing state and local units of government to conduct compliance checks.
The state law, which went into effect in August, removed any penalty for possession of tobacco products, including vaping products, by anyone under 21 and instead recommended that local municipalities consider restorative measures rather than more traditional punitive measures.
McCoy said that means instead of things like fines, communities may consider providing young people with education and resources to help them address issues like addiction.
According to McCoy, Clay County is uniquely poised to do just that, as the county has had a restorative justice program in place for many years.
A nonprofit organization called the Public Health Law Center provides towns and cities with draft ordinances they can use to integrate local rules with Minnesota's new tobacco law.
The draft ordinances can also accommodate specialized language when it comes to policies like penalties for youth who violate tobacco regulations.
Regarding possible amendments to local ordinances, McCoy said it's his understanding that any language involving penalties for businesses that sell tobacco products to someone under age would not go beyond penalties already spelled out in state law.
According to the 2020 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey, students are vaping more frequently than they have in the past, which can be a sign of dependence.
A third of the students who said they vape indicated they used an e-cigarette on at least 20 of the past 30 days, an 80% increase over 2017 survey results.
Also, in 2020, 78% of Minnesota students who experimented with tobacco reported that the first product they ever tried was flavored with menthol or another flavor, according to the survey; which also indicated the majority of students who use e-cigarettes reported strong cravings and other signs of nicotine dependence, such as reaching for their e-cigarette without thinking about it.
The agenda for Monday's Moorhead City Council meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. in the city council chambers, indicates a presentation only regarding tobacco and e-cigarette issues.
The agenda for the Dilworth City Council meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. at city hall, includes discussion of possible amendments to city codes dealing with tobacco and e-cigarettes.