Forum Editorial: ‘Nic sick’ in Minnesota: a case for raising the tobacco age to 21

Editorial FSA

It’s a troubling sign of the times that the phrase “nic sick” has come into vogue among teens. It’s slang for symptoms that include nausea, headache and dizziness — all signs of nicotine poisoning.

Teachers in schools around Minnesota have seen “nic sick” students in the classroom. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon: One of every five Minnesota high-schoolers use e-cigarettes, and 40 percent have tried them.

Advocates of vaping claim that e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to smoking. But research shows that aerosol from e-cigarettes is not safe and contains nicotine, heavy metals, formaldehyde and other carcinogens and harmful chemicals.

Alarmingly, youth tobacco use in Minnesota has risen for the first time in 17 years. We don’t have to go searching for an explanation. Nicotine, of course, is highly addictive, and e-cigarettes are efficient nicotine delivery devices, and can deliver very high doses.

Unfortunately, kids often are unaware that e-cigarettes contain nicotine — although the vaping industry often targets this vulnerable age group with candy flavors, colors and packaging that are appealing to young, naive users.


There is, in short, a growing public health crisis that requires action.

Minnesota lawmakers can and should act on two fronts. They should pass Tobacco 21 legislation, which would limit tobacco sales to those who are age 21 and over.

That’s important because 95 percent of addicted adult smokers started before age 21. Raising the tobacco sale age to 21 will reduce youth smoking and save lives.

Minnesota could become the 13th state to raise the tobacco sale age to 21. A movement is building momentum around the country. In Washington, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, has announced his support for restricting tobacco sales to those 21 and older.

The movement has strong support around Minnesota, where 31 cities and counties have raised the tobacco age to 21. Wilkin County is considering a Tobacco 21 proposal, and proposals are expected to be brought before officials in Clay County and Moorhead.

Some will inevitably sound the alarm that, if western Minnesota border communities raise the age to buy tobacco, sales will shift to North Dakota. Given the huge disparity in tobacco taxes — North Dakota’s are, unwisely and irresponsibly, among the lowest in the nation — so that shift has already occurred.

Here’s the bottom line: a 25-percent reduction in smoking among 15- to 17-year-olds would result from raising the tobacco age to 21, according to researchers.

The Minnesota Legislature also should require that e-cigarettes are regulated under the clean indoor air act. A poll shows overwhelming public support — more than 80 percent support banning e-cigarette use in public buildings — just as an overwhelming majority supports banning smoking in public buildings.


Minnesota’s smoking rate once was well below the national average. But now it equals the national average, 14 percent. Lives and peoples’ health depend upon Minnesota doing better.

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