Benton County becomes 40th Tobacco 21 community

The surge in communities working to protect youth from the harms of tobacco continues as Benton County became the latest to pass a Tobacco 21 ordinance. The County Commissioners unanimously voted in favor of Tobacco 21, making Benton County the 40th community in Minnesota and the ninth county to do so.

This move comes at a time when youth e-cigarette use has increased nearly 50 percent in the past three years, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Nearly one in five Minnesota High School students currently uses e-cigarettes, according to the 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey. Approximately 95 percent of current adult smokers started before they turned 21. If youth don’t start smoking before the age of 21, they likely never will.

Although it was unanimous, Commissioner Spencer Buerkle urged Minnesota’s state legislators to get on board with Tobacco 21 to put the measure into effect statewide. Buerkle said he stopped smoking in the 60s after reading the Surgeon General’s report on smoking at the time. “I’d like to get a message to the state legislators,” Buerkle said.

“Thank you to the Benton County Commissioners for their leadership in helping to reduce youth access to tobacco and to safeguard our youth,” said Nicole Ruhoff, Benton County public health supervisor. “We hope their example will inspire other cities and councils in the area to start having this discussion to protect youth. I’d also like to thank our partners and advocates for sharing their experiences, supporting the work and making this possible.”

The principals from Foley High School and Sauk Rapids High School testified on behalf of the policy. “We need to stop use in social circles and groups, then we can stop use altogether,” said Shayne Kusler, Foley High principal. A student from Sauk Rapids spoke about what he witnesses almost daily at his school, saying he’d even had a classmate vape right next to him during class one time.

Benton County is the ninth county and 40th community in Minnesota to raise the tobacco sales age to 21. Edina, Saint Louis Park, Bloomington, Plymouth, North Mankato, Falcon Heights, Shoreview, Minneapolis, Saint Peter, Richfield, Roseville, Minnetonka, Excelsior, Lauderdale, Hermantown, Brooklyn Center, Mendota Heights, Otter Tail, Pope, Beltrami, Isanti, Olmsted, Wilkin, Stevens and Hennepin counties, Eden Prairie, Waseca, Duluth, North Oaks, Bemidji, Robbinsdale, Albert Lea, Arden Hills, Austin, Little Canada, Lilydale, Mankato, New Brighton and Byron have taken this step.