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Austin City Council raises tobacco purchasing age to 21

The Austin City Council unanimously approved a revision to the current tobacco ordinance that raises the legal purchasing age of tobacco products in Austin from 18 to 21 during its regular meeting Monday evening.

Austin joins other Minnesota communities to do so, including Albert Lea, whose council passed a similar measure last week.

Austin Police Chief David McKichan

The change in the age limit is in response to growing concern surrounding e-cigarettes and vaping among students in the Austin Public Schools District. In a letter to the council, Austin Police Chief David McKichan said the APD “has seen a rise in the use of tobacco products again, specifically e-tobacco products.” He also said members of the Austin Area Drug Task Force “have reviewed the data over the course of the past year and understand the addictive nature of tobacco products and their potential harm to our area youth. We do believe that helping keep our youth from using these products will lead to better long term health outcomes in our area.”

Austin Mayor Tom Stiehm, who is a member of the Austin Area Drug Task Force, called the decision to raise the legal age “a no-brainer.”

“Just the other day I was listening to the radio and it said that people who have never smoked and would never smoke are vaping,” he said. “It’s an epidemic right now and it’s never been approved by the FDA.”

The ordinance also defines an electronic delivery device as “any product containing or delivering nicotine, lobelia, or any other substance, whether natural or synthetic, intended for human consumption through the inhalation of aerosol or vapor from the product.” Electronic delivery devices include, but are not limited to, “devices manufactured, marketed, or sold as e-cigarettes, e-cigars, e-pipes, vape pens, mods, tank systems, or under any other product name or descriptor.”

McKichan said the age limit applies strictly to the sale of tobacco products; individuals ages 18-20 can still legally possess and use tobacco products in Austin.

“At the end of the day, this works to reduce youth smoking; all of the data suggests that it does,” said Councilman Jason Baskin. “… It’s a public health impact; it costs $3 billion plus a year just in the State of Minnesota. And it works.  If we were just doing it for the sake of doing it, I don’t know if I would be in favor of it. But we know it works.”

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