Minneapolis Raises Smoking Age to 21

Published June 11, 2018

The city of Minneapolis has enacted an ordinance increasing the minimum legal age for purchasing cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Beginning October 1, individuals under the age of 21 will be prohibited from buying tobacco products in Minneapolis or entering tobacco stores.

Minnesota Mayor Jacob Frey signed the ordinance into law on May 25, after the Minneapolis City Council unanimously approved it earlier that day.

‘No Public Health Benefit’

Mark Thornton, a senior fellow at the Mises Institute and a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News, says the new law will have plenty of negative consequences and no positive effects.

“There will be no public health benefit from this ordinance,” Thornton said. “It is simply impossible to police and extremely easy to evade such an ordinance. The city is surrounded by active retail establishments which will gain business and profits at the expense of the city’s retail sector. There would be various black-market activities that will spring up inside the city to circumvent the ordinance, possibly bringing crime and corruption in its wake.”

Expects Resentment

William Anderson, a professor of economics at Frostburg College, says young people will see the new law as infringing on their liberty.

“It will turn a lot of young people into lawbreakers, as it will be the authorities ‘throwing down the glove’ at them,” Anderson said. “Young people correctly will see this as taking away some of their rights.”

Anderson says the new smoking-age law could also be misused by abusive or overzealous law enforcement officers.

“Someone likely will be shot by police or roughed up by authorities,” Anderson said. “It places one more barrier between young people and the authorities, and it erodes respect for the law. I would rather see no restrictive laws like what we may see in Minneapolis.”

Paternalism in the Checkout Lane

Thornton says increasing the legal age to buy tobacco is inconsistent with other public policies.

“Why would we expect that young adults can be responsible for voting and marriage, as well as fighting in war for the government, and not be able to make their own decisions regarding tobacco?” Thornton said. “We see that young adults are increasingly not consuming tobacco, or increasingly turning to smokeless tobacco and vaping. Providing increasing economic opportunity is the best way to enhance responsible choices.”

Wages of Prohibition

Thornton says the new ordinance is similar to anti-alcohol laws passed in the twentieth century, and will have similar outcomes.

“Prohibition inevitably brings unintended consequences such as crime, corruption, and diminished economic activity,” Thornton said. “This ordinance, which is targeted at the 18-21 age range, is also likely to trigger reactions from that group. The group is not likely to take kindly to being told what to do, so it may actually result in an increase in the demand for tobacco among the group, particularly males.

“Also, it is highly unlikely that the group would stop consuming tobacco, so they would be breaking the law and thus naturally would have a diminished respect for law and order,” Thornton said.

Anderson says prohibition and other big-government actions, tobacco age increases included, never work as planned.

“This new ordinance, I predict, will have no significant effect on rates of smoking, but it will have negative effects elsewhere,” Anderson said. “The spirit of Prohibition still lives. No matter how many times it is tried, prohibition is a failure.”