By Jeff Wagner

EAGAN, Minn. (WCCO) — Buried in the rush of the holiday season was a federal shot-in-the-arm to the grassroots effort to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco products to 21 years old.

President Donald Trump signed the major change into law a few days before Christmas.

“It was really great to see not only President Trump but leaders from both sides of the aisle really stand together and say ‘Tobacco 21’ is a big priority for us,” Laura Smith said.

Smith is a spokesperson for Clearway Minnesota, an organization leading the statewide effort that influenced dozens of cities and counties to raise the minimum age prior to the national change. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “It is now illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product, including cigarettes, cigars, and e-cigarettes, to anyone under 21. FDA will provide additional details on this issue as they become available.”

Based on that statement, Smith said, “(The FDA is) saying that this takes effect immediately.”

But not all retailers are immediately listening. Several tobacco shops in Eagan still sell to people under 21 years old because the city’s ordinance only requires customers to be at least 18.

Shop owners told WCCO off camera they’ll keep doing so until Eagan city leaders vote to raise the age requirement.

Some businesses in town aren’t waiting. Holiday Station Stores had a sign on the entrance door that said customers must be 21 to buy tobacco products. Cub Foods nearby also adopted the age change.

An Eagan Police spokesman said officers only enforce city and state laws, not federal, partly why Clearway Minnesota feels there’s more work to be done.

“Local communities can still raise their tobacco age to 21 and we encourage them to do so,” said Smith. “We can also do it at the state level to make sure all our laws are up to date, we have good signage and make sure that retailers really understand.”

Smith is hopeful the change in the federal law will accelerate the effort in the state legislature to during the 2020 session.

A spokesperson for the City of Eagan said city council members have been working toward a possible change in the tobacco age ordinance since last month. He said a work session on the topic was scheduled for February or March, but that could change given the new federal law.

Jeff Wagner

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