MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Another local government is considering raising the age to buy tobacco to 21.

One in seven deaths in Hennepin County is tobacco-related, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Thirty-five communities across the state have banned tobacco sales to people under 21.

Hennepin County is now taking on the tobacco fight for areas where bans aren’t already in effect: The smaller municipalities it licenses.

“It’s really important as we’re trying to prevent youth addiction, protect kids and make a healthier future for all of our residents,” said Molly Molianen, director of public affairs for the nonprofit ClearWay Minnesota.

Molianen is supporting a proposed ban in smaller areas of Hennepin County to further raise the legal age to 21, and stop flavored tobacco sales.

“We know Tobacco 21, combined with youth restriction to flavored products and increasing prices is really a combination effect,” Molianen said.

Anthony Pitarro, 23, knows the effects of tobacco well. The Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge recovery grad started smoking at 13. He eventually turned to opioids and heroin.

“It was the most addicting substance out of all the drugs I did because even today, it’s something that I struggle to be around,” Pitarro said.

He also supports the Hennepin County proposed regulations.

“Rather if they wait a little longer or they can’t get it as easy, maybe it will make a bit of a difference, you know, because it’s obviously a serious issue,” Pitarro said.

Bruce Nustad of the Minnesota Retailers Association says their store owners agree that teens should not be smoking. It’s the flavor ban that raises great concern.

“We’ve seen it in other areas, in other cities. We’ve seen retailers losing $40,000 or $100,000 a month in sales because of that flavor ban aspect,” Nustad said. “So that’s even more concerning than the T-21 part.”

County commissioners held a public hearing and plan to soon decide how young is too young. ClearWay Minnesota says they will be back at the Minnesota State Capitol next year, working to make the 21-age limit a state law.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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