February 20, 2019 03:15 PM
(ABC 6 News) -- The Austin city council Tuesday took its first steps toward becoming the latest Minnesota municipality to raise the age to purchase tobacco products to 21.
During its work session after Tuesday's city council meeting, council members voted unanimously to have city staff draft a proposed ordinance that would raise the age to buy tobacco in the city from 18 to 21.
"The nicotine is such an addictive drug and addictive chemical," said Chris Weis, a community health specialist with Mower County Health and Human Services and a member of the city's drug task force. "Our young children's brains are developing yet until they're around 26 or so and to put all this nicotine into their brains is really causing a lot of damage."
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Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show cigarette smoking rates among middle and high school students declined between 2011 and 2018, but electronic cigarette usage has increased substantially during that same period. In 2018, more than one in five American high school students reported using an electronic cigarette in the past 30 days, up from just one-point-five percent in 2011.
Austin isn't alone in its efforts; Albert Lea officials are considering a similar measure there. Across the state, numerous communities, including Minneapolis, Duluth and Waseca, have already enacted higher age limits.
Council member Steve King, also a member of the city's drug task force, called the proposal a "public health service" but said the city is not looking at raising fines for noncompliance just yet.
King also pointed out that two of the city council members work for a retailer that sells tobacco products yet every council member voted in support of a higher age limit.
Neither Austin nor Albert Lea have an official policy drafted for public review and comment yet, but staff could have them available in the coming weeks.
Updated: February 20, 2019 03:15 PM
Created: February 19, 2019 11:45 PM
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