Tobacco 21 discussions begin slowly in Maplewood

file photo • Youth from John Glenn Middle School’s Support Our School group have talked with several elected officials about raising the tobacco sales age from 18 to 21. During Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation Day on March 22, the students met with Reps. Leon Lillie and Peter Fischer, as well as Sen. Chuck Wiger, at the Capitol, and in April, they met with Maplewood Mayor Nora Slawik.

Cities changing the tobacco sales age from 18 to 21 is a growing trend in the metro area. The week of May 7, Shoreview and Falcon Heights became the first east metro cities to join the trend, which includes five other cities in Minnesota.

The Tobacco 21, or T21, movement has not gained traction in North St. Paul, Oakdale and Lake Elmo, according to their respective city manager and city administrators, but the issue has come to the Maplewood City Council’s attention, according to City Manager Melinda Coleman.

At the April 23 Maplewood City Council meeting, Mayor Nora Slawik updated the council on a meeting she recently had with some students from John Glenn Middle School, who pressed her to change the age.

Slawik explained that she told the students they would have to talk to council members and members of the business community one-on-one, and give a presentation at a council workshop explaining why they think Maplewood should change the tobacco sales age.

“I know the council wanted to put that on hold a little bit, but they had some very convincing information about those flavored cigarettes, and really, the vaping,” Slawik said.

She explained that vaping is a “real problem” in local high schools because students vape inside the school building during the school day.


Easy access

Chris Turner, program and media specialist for the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota, said in an interview that, currently, 18-year-old high school students are able to legally purchase tobacco products, and sometimes these legally purchased products end up in the hands of fellow students who are under the legal sales age.

Turner added that most kids aged 13-15 know an 18-year-old because they are in clubs and athletics with them, so it is easy for the younger students to find someone in their school to purchase tobacco products for them. 

“The biggest thing that T21 does is it widens the gap,” Turner said. “It’s a lot harder to find a 21-year-old who’s willing to buy for a 13- or 14-year-old, so it basically takes tobacco out of the high school. Determined youth might still be able to find it, but you reduce the exposure and the likelyhood that they can.”

Earlier this spring, the same group of John Glenn students, which calls itself “Support Our School,” celebrated Kick Butts Day March 21 by encouraging classmates to sign post cards urging elected officials to raise the tobacco sales age. Those post cards and other letters have already been sent to Maplewood City Council members, Turner said.

The Support Our School group also visited the Minnesota Capitol on Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation Day March 22, and talked about the tobacco sales age with Reps. Leon Lillie and Peter Fischer, as well as Sen. Chuck Wiger.

“T21 — it’s a growing trend right now. Obviously the goal is for the whole state to be protected,” Turner said, adding that it takes longer to make changes on the state level than the city level. 

“The tobacco control movement has long relied on strong local adoption of policies to drive the state level,” Turner said. “It reduces that feeling, I guess, of cities being islands. You know, you’ve got Shoreview, Falcon Heights, Maplewood if they would go. Then maybe you look at St. Paul, so then you have less places where youth can go out of their range and purchase.”


‘It takes time’

Although the Maplewood City Council briefly discussed the topic at its April 23 meeting, the council is not currently scheduled to discuss it and none of the city committees have yet done so, either.

“It takes time and education to change ordinances,” Slawik said in an interview. 

She explained that in addition to the students meeting with council members, city staff needs to conduct an analysis of the number of businesses selling tobacco products in Maplewood and how the change would affect sales.

“Because suburbs are starting to pass the T21 ordinance, it is important that our council be better educated from the student perspective and business perspective on the pros and cons of potentially adopting this ordinance,” Slawik said. “Once that is done we will be in a better position to make a decision.”


– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or

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