Group photo inside courthouse in a meeting room.

New Ordinance: Must be 21 or Older to Purchase Tobacco (and All Nicotine Products) in Pope County

By Celeste Rapp, originally published in the Pope County Tribune

Pope County is following Otter Tail County’s lead and is raising the legal purchase age of tobacco [all nicotine products] to 21. Over 20 Minnewaska Area High School students and staff as well as Pope County community members attended the public hearing that was held on Dec. 7 at the Pope County Board of Commissioners meeting.

A public hearing was held before any official action was taken. Many people at the meeting spoke during the hearing in support of the ordinance.

Chip Rankin, superintendent of Minnewaska Area Schools, said that his main concern is that students think that e-cigarettes are a “healthy” option in place of cigarettes. “Today is about keeping students safe,” he said. He also said that a concern is accessibility of tobacco products to younger students, those who may be friends with 18-year-olds who are able to obtain those products.

Rankin also said that tobacco products are directed toward youth by offering different and enticing flavors, such as cherry and mint. “I think your job and my job is to keep kids safe,” Rankin said to the board.

Pat Douvier spoke to the board as a grandparent to young students at Minnewaska Area Schools. “I feel it’s our duty to get this passed and start it at our local level,” she said, telling the board that she doesn’t want her grandchildren to have access to nicotine products because they may be friends with older students.

Peers may deem using tobacco “cool” and may be a factor in youths using tobacco she said. She also said that by the age of 21, most students are more focused on their future than what is “cool” and that raising the legal purchase age of tobacco will help diminish tobacco use in students.

Kaitlyn Pederson, a ninth-grade student at Minnewaska Area High School, was the only student to speak during the public hearing. She said that, as a student, she hears what others say about using tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes and JUULs, and realizes that many of her peers are using tobacco products. Pederson said that her peers now call bathrooms “JUUL rooms” and that it’s easy to use bathrooms for tobacco usage because there aren’t any cameras in bathrooms.

Pederson is a member of the student group SADD, Students Against Destructive Decisions, and said, “We’re taking steps to cut off access to these products.” She also said that effective policies protect children and that the board’s decision could influence other counties to make the same change. “I’m standing here as a minor, asking you to help us make a change,” she said to the board.

After hearing multiple stances from people with varying backgrounds and stories, the board unanimously decided to pass the ordinance 201802 to raise the legal purchase age of tobacco to 21. The ordinance does not restrict possession and use of the product for anyone aged 18 to 21; it just restricts the purchasing of tobacco products.

Learn more about Tobacco 21 in Minnesota.