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Push begins for raising tobacco age limit to 21 in Minn.

ST. PAUL—A bipartisan group of lawmakers want to make it illegal to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products to anyone under 21 in Minnesota.

The current age is 18.

The proposal by a group of House members would also cover nicotine products like e-cigarettes.

Why would we change?

The harder you make it for people under 21 to buy nicotine, the fewer people will get sick and die, supporters say.

Here's the big statistic they point to: Nearly 95 percent of addicted smokers start smoking before age 21, according to a 2010 federal government report. Keep 'em tobacco-free by 21, and the odds are greatly increased they'll never take up the habit.

Will this happen?

Unclear. Even though there are supporters from both parties — and from metro and rural areas — that doesn't mean the bill will even be voted on.

State Rep. Dario Anselmo, R-Edina, the lead sponsor of the bill introduced Thursday, March 8, said he's optimistic the proposal will get a public hearing, but he's received no promises from Republican leaders who control the agenda of the Legislature.

And there is opposition.

Who is against this?

The most significant group opposed to raising the tobacco age will likely be owners of convenience stores and gas stations who sell smokes.

Shortly after Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation held a news conference touting the plan, some of those opposed contacted the media.

"I'm not an apologist for the tobacco industry, but this is problematic because it's going after retailers once again," said Lonnie McQuirter, a partner of 36 Lyn Refuel Station, a gas station and convenience store at West 36th Street and Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis. "I think the intentions they have may be good, but in terms of the effect, it's squarely aimed at retailers."

Isn't smoking down?

Yes, smoking rates are down in Minnesota. But supporters of the plan, known as "Tobacco 21," point to Minnesota Department of Health figures showing that in 2017, use of tobacco and nicotine products rose for the first time in 17 years, and that more than 26 percent of Minnesota high school students use those products.

Who else is doing this?

In Minnesota, the communities of Bloomington, Edina, St. Louis Park, Plymouth and North Mankato have raised the tobacco age to 21, making them among 290 municipalities nationwide. Five states — Oregon, Maine, California, New Jersey and Hawaii — have done it statewide, according to a list provided by supporters. Both St. Paul and Minneapolis have approved bans of menthol cigarette sales in most stores which will take effect later this year.