By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — More than 50 cities and counties in Minnesota now require people to be of drinking age to buy tobacco products.

City leaders in Golden Valley, Scandia and St. James all voted and passed measures Tuesday to raise the age limit to 21 years old. Golden Valley took it a step further, also voting to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, like e-cigarettes.

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Vaping products like Juul, and its appeal to youth, are partly why Minnesotans for a Smoke Free Generation is pushing cities to raise the age to buy tobacco to 21. The group was even more pleased to learn about Golden Valley’s additional move.

“It’s really setting a new kind of example of what communities can do to address tobacco addiction among youth from a bunch of different angles,” said Laura Smith, a spokesperson for Minnesotans for a Smoke Free Generation.

Vaping has become a controversial topic nationwide, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting about 1,300 lung injury cases connected to it as of October 8. Twenty-six people have died.

Most of the patients admitted to vaping THC products bought illegally, which the CDC states is playing a major role in the outbreak.

Still, states like Oregon and Massachusetts have put the focus on flavored vaping products, temporarily banning their sale.

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“Flavors aren’t a problem. Flavors don’t cause the problem,” said Josh Hassing, general manager at The Vaping Studio in Hopkins.

He worries a ban on flavored vaping products, such as the liquid on his shelves, will put his customers right back where they started.

“They’re either going to go back to smoking, or they’re going to go to some other non-flavored [vaping product] that you could get at a tobacco shop or a gas station, some little pre-filled, high-nicotine thing that’s actually owned by ‘Big Tobacco,’” Hassing said.

He feels regulation, not bans, is the route states should take. He adds that regulating vaping products’ ingredients, not flavors, is how to address health concerns.

“We see that a lot in the [United Kingdom] where these ingredients are allowed, these are not, and that seems to work very well. They’ve embraced vaping as a healthier alternative,” he said.

According to a CBS News report on vaping and research being done by scientists in the United Kingdom, “Public Health England describes e-cigarettes as ‘at least 95% less harmful’ than tobacco cigarettes.” For more information on e-cigarette regulations in the United Kingdom, click here.

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The CDC recommends people “consider refraining” from using vaping products that contain nicotine. It also states it has yet to identify the exact cause of the lung injuries in the nearly 1,300 cases.

Jeff Wagner