With the youth of Minnesota in the midst of a vaping epidemic and severe lung damage a hot topic across the country, the Golden Valley City Council let the tobacco industry know where it stands in the fight to protect youth from the harms of tobacco. The City Council voted unanimously Oct. 15 on a number of measures aimed at protecting youth, including raising the tobacco sales age to 21, prohibiting the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol, setting a minimum price for previously cheap, flavored cigars and barring Golden Valley pharmacies from holding tobacco licenses.

Menthol-, candy- and fruit-flavored tobacco products are attractive to youth, and the tobacco industry uses these flavors to hook a new generation of users, resulting in addiction, disease and death. Eighty percent of youth tobacco users use flavored tobacco.

“We all struggle with the impact on businesses, but this is a public health crises,” Golden Valley council member Gillian Rosenquist said. “Gov. (Tim) Walz called on the Legislature to take on these actions. This is truly a need. We are not outliers in this.”

Golden Valley is the 51st community in Minnesota to raise the tobacco sales age to 21, with Saint James and Scandia also passing Tobacco 21 on Oct. 15. West Saint Paul raised the age to 21 the previous night. Other communities that have taken the step include 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, Hennepin, Benton and Wright counties, Eden Prairie, Waseca, Duluth, North Oaks, Bemidji, Robbinsdale, Albert Lea, Arden Hills, Austin, Little Canada, Lilydale, Mankato, New Brighton, Byron, Forest Lake, Braham, Owatonna, Fergus Falls, Mounds View, Saint Anthony Village and Stewartville.

New student date survey results released earlier this month show an alarming jump in the rate of teens vaping in Minnesota. According to the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey, one in four Minnesota 11th graders reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days. That is a 54 percent increase from the 2016 survey. Overall youth tobacco use had already taken an upward swing in 2017 for the first time in 17 years because of e-cigarette and flavored cigar use.

“What Golden Valley has done may very well be the new gold standard in local tobacco control efforts,” Emily Anderson, Program Manager, at the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota, said. “The city has decided to address the human and economic costs of tobacco head on by restricting how and where tobacco is sold in their community. There’s no doubt that the changes they’ve made will save lives.”

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.

Council members thanked fellow member Larry Fonnest for bringing the measures to their attention.

“I didn’t know about all the vaping,” council member Joanie Clausen said. “I went from one end of the spectrum to the other. I support this whole ball of wax.”

Fonnest said, “Thank you to everyone. This is a topic I’ve felt passionate about for many years. In October of 2004, Golden Valley passed one of the most stringent clean indoor air ordinances, now here we are about to make history. I’m proud of all of us. Thanks to all the organizations who came out.”

Golden Valley is the 13th Minnesota community to restrict the sale of flavored tobacco and the 10th to also restrict the sale of menthol. Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Saint Louis Park, Shoreview, Lauderdale, Duluth, Mendota Heights, Robbinsdale, Falcon Heights, Lilydale, Arden Hills and Hennepin County have restricted the sale of flavored tobacco products. Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Duluth, Mendota Heights, Lauderdale, Falcon Heights, Lilydale, Arden Hills and Hennepin County also restrict the sale of menthol tobacco products. It is one of nine communities that has restricted flavors and raised the tobacco sales age to 21. Those communities include Minneapolis, Duluth, Mendota Heights, Lauderdale, Falcon Heights, Lilydale, Arden Hills and Hennepin County. Saint Paul is set to join that group in another week.