Otter Tail County Becomes First MN County to Raise Minimum Tobacco Age
The measure passed unanimously by Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners
FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — When Diane Thorson began serving as Otter Tail County’s Public Health Director in 1978, she said it was common to see county commissioners smoking in the council chambers.
Forty years later, Thorson says she’s glad the men sitting in those same chairs did their part to make it harder for kids to get a hold of tobacco products.
The county’s Board of Commissioners unanimously passed an ordinance that raised the minimum age for purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21.
“Passing this ordinance today sends a strong message to our community that the norm in our community is tobacco products and electronic nicotine delivery devices are not to be used by people under the age of 21,” Thorson said.
Thorson decided to propose the ordinance after school administrators raised concerns when younger kids, even those in fifth grade, started to vape.
“They were starting to see that they had to do more disciplinary action. They weren’t doing it for tobacco, but now they had to do disciplinary action for vaping,” said Thorson.
By becoming the first county in the state to raise the minimum age to 21, Thorson says she’s optimistic this small ripple can cause a big wave in Minnesota.
“That is our ultimate goal. By adopting it locally, we’re sending a strong message to our representatives that this really should be statewide,” the retiring Public Health Director said.
County commissioners say raising the age from 18 to 21 will be effective because kids will have fewer connections to get their hands on tobacco products.
“Most 16–year–olds don’t know a lot of 21–year–olds, but most 16–year–olds know a lot of 18–year–olds. Underage smoking and tobacco use is illegal. We just felt that if we moved that bar up to 21, the availability to our youth is far less,” said Wayne Johnson, the Chair of the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners.
With Otter Tail County at the forefront of the Tobacco 21 movement, Thorson says she’s glad her county is making a stand to defend public health to keep kids safe.
The new measure takes effect on January 1.
However, people born before December 31, 2000 are still able to purchase tobacco in the county.
Fifteen other communities in Minnesota have already established the Tobacco 21 rule, and two counties are looking into adopting it.