Minnesota to reduce youth access to tobacco products

Minnesota’s tobacco laws are strengthened to reduce youth access to tobacco products under a bill signed into law this week. The measure, known as the Tobacco Modernization and Compliance Act of 2010, authored by Senator Scott Dibble and Representative Jim Davnie, both DFL-Minneapolis, closes loopholes in current state law that allows many new tobacco products to skirt or avoid the taxation and regulation currently applied to cigarettes.

“The face of the tobacco industry is rapidly changing, and we need to ensure Minnesota’s laws and regulations keep up with that pattern,” Sen. Dibble said “Right now, there are products being test-marketed, with children as the intended consumers, that were never envisioned when we wrote our tobacco laws decades ago. There is no such thing as a safe tobacco product, and we need to ensure that we have laws in place to make sure these new products are regulated and kept out of the hands of our kids.”

The legislation ensures new tobacco products are covered by existing regulations. This includes dissolvable tobacco products - such as sticks, strips and orbs - that currently are being test-marketed in several cities. Some have not yet made it to Minnesota. The products, made of finely milled tobacco, dissolve when placed in the mouth, releasing significant amounts of nicotine with the same addictive properties.

Experts fear that the products will be particularly popular with young people because they are designed to look like small breath mints, toothpicks, and breath-freshening strips. These products are not currently defined in Minnesota Statutes; therefore, they are not taxed nor regulated as tobacco products, which would allow them to appear on open store shelves adjacent to candy and other products they represent.

“Minnesota has done a good job of educating youth about the harmful effects of cigarettes,” Rep. Davnie said. “These new products post just as much of a health risk, but to many children, they appear to be harmless and similar to a piece of candy. I’m hopeful that this new law will not only increase public awareness of these products, but draw attention to all new forms of tobacco so children understand the impact of using such items. It’s important that we all work together to make sure that this next generation of tobacco products doesn’t get into the hands of the next generation of Minnesotans”

The new law also prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to youth. E-cigarettes are electronic nicotine delivery devices that simulate smoking. They rely on a battery-operated nicotine vaporizer that delivers puffs of nicotine vapor to users. Current law does not prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to youth.

“Unless we get in front of this issue quickly, we risk seeing our state flooded with new tobacco products that are insufficiently regulated and available to children,” Sen. Dibble said. “This bill is simply designed to keep harmful products out of the hands of children. No product is banned or otherwise prohibited.”

The legislation was supported by numerous organizations, including: BlueCross BlueShield of Minnesota, ClearWay Minnesota, the American Lung Association in Minnesota, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society.

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