The city of St. Cloud is considering whether to increase the age to buy tobacco in the city to 21.

Really, though, if elected and professional officials of any government wanted to do what's best for their constituents, they would simply outlaw tobacco.

Yes, admittedly, that seems extreme. Until you try to answer one fundamental challenge: Name one redeeming quality of tobacco.

The health evidence is overwhelmingly and unequivocally negative — even deadly.

The historical and cultural significance of tobacco in the United States — except for American Indian traditions — is built on marketing myths, nothing more.

And then, of course, there's the money — arguably the real reason an outright ban is seldom given serious consideration.

Economics rooted in tobacco and smoking production certainly benefit those directly involved — including governments, which tax the tar out of tobacco while simultaneously letting various elected officials collect lobbyists' cash.

But those narrowly targeted economic benefits pale in comparison to the costs tobacco products inflict on all of society — from health care to never-ending public policy debates, the age of purchase being just the latest example.

With all that in mind, the challenge remains: Name one redeeming quality of tobacco.

Raise the age

Of course, nobody expects St. Cloud's elected leaders to show that much political courage. Still, though, they are on the right track.

Crave the Change, a Central Minnesota organization that's spent the past decade fighting tobacco use, offers an array of statistics on why boosting the age to 21 makes sense. Among the most compelling:

  • Nearly 95 percent of addicted smokers start by the time they turn 21.
  • About 77,000 Minnesota kids use tobacco. While half those teens have tried to quit, 80 percent will become adult smokers.
  • Overall about 118,000 of today's Minnesota kids will die from smoking.

Raising the age makes even more sense when you look at what the tobacco industry continues to do to attract kids. Tobacco flavors include menthol as well as sweet flavors like fruits and candy. Not to mention the packaging and marketing of such items.

Of course, those tactics are nothing new. Crave the Change, along with similar groups nationwide, have long cited this research done more than 30 years ago by tobacco giant Phillip Morris and made public only in the past decade:

"Raising the legal minimum age for cigarette purchaser to 21 could gut our key young adult market (17-20) where we sell about 25 billion cigarettes and enjoy a 70 percent market share."

Regional effort

Finally, as the St. Cloud City Council approaches a Nov. 9 public hearing on the matter, residents of neighboring cities Sartell, Sauk Rapids, St. Joseph, Waite Park and St. Augusta should urge their elected leaders to act, too.

Raising the age to 21 in just one city in a metro community made up of six communities will do little good.

St. Cloud (Minn.) Times, Sept. 30.

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