Opinion Letter: Tobacco 21 is a policy designed to fail
Tobacco 21 (T21) is a risky policy with no empirical evidence of being effective. It aims to remove freedom of choice from a segregated group of law-abiding adult citizens and penalizes local businesses in an effort to prevent minors from doing things that are already illegal for them to do.
History has shown us repeatedly that social engineering, arbitrary prohibitive measures are extremely ineffective in addressing substance use and inevitably backfire by laying groundwork for black market and increasing youth access, increasing use rates through psychological reactance, and adding to overall diffidence toward the law.
In addiction, the policy blocks adult access to tobacco harm reduction (THR) through smoke-free vapor products- a proven 95-percent safer alternative to smoking. As a result, smokers who began before age 18 would remain tethered to cigarettes for an additional 3 years, causing unnecessary harm to their health. Likewise, young adults who have already quit smoking via vaping would be sent back to smoking, as cigarettes are far easier to obtain under this policy than vapor products which require frequent maintenance and varying components.
Research supported by the National Institutes of Health concluded that laws banning sales of e-cigarettes to young adults actually pushes youth toward traditional cigarettes and that the unintended consequences of these laws is concerning and may have a negative impact on public health.
According to a recent survey conducted in Cohasset, Mass., teen smoking has surged for the first time in years. The spike occurred one year following the city's enactment of T21, during a time of otherwise nationwide record declines in tobacco use. Another recent study carried out in New York City found that increasing the sales age to 21-years did not accelerate reductions in youth tobacco use any more rapidly than declines observed in comparison sites. In fact, comparison sites that did not adopt T21 reportedly saw a higher decrease in youth tobacco use compared to NYC.
T21 is little more than a political placebo, offering a false sense of comfort while doing nothing to effectively address youth use. Youth and adult smoking rates have been steadily declining for years and are currently at historic lows. To tamper with this progress by enacting unenforceable, easily circumventable laws is reckless.
So far, a minimum of 18 Minnesota locatilites have opted out of adopting T21 - including neighboring communities Frazee, Detroit Lakes, and Becker County. We urge Otter Tail County to make the responsible decision to protect our community from unregulated black markets and increased smoking by voting "no" on Tobacco 21.
Jenny Hoban Vice President — Tobacco Harm Reduction 4 Life Local Business Owner - Masterpiece Vapors (Perham, Detroit Lakes)