Mendota Heights increases tobacco-buying age to 21

courtesy City of Mendota Heights Mendota Heights joins a growing number of Minnesota cities that have increased the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. Last year, Mendota Heights banned the sale of many flavored tobacco products within city limits.

After banning the sale of many flavored tobacco products earlier this year, the Mendota Heights City Council approved another smoking-related ordinance Nov. 20, which will increase the age one needs to be in order to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

With a unanimous vote followed by applause, the council made Mendota Heights the latest Minnesota city to become part of the Tobacco 21 movement.


The ordinance 

Cheryl Jacobson, assistant city administrator, said that in October the council discussed additional changes to city code regarding tobacco and gave city staff directions to prepare an ordinance that would accomplish several things, including prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to people younger than 21, as well as the sale of menthol, mint and winter green flavored tobacco to all.

Notifications were sent to the six tobacco retailers in the city, and a meeting was held at the end of October to discuss the proposed changes.

“It should be noted we [received] no comments at that time and no one attended that meeting,” Jacobson said. 

City attorney Andrew Pratt said items prohibited to be sold to those under 21 include tobacco, tobacco-related devices, electronic delivery devices, nicotine and lobelia delivery products. 

The definition of flavored products includes flavors previously not banned: menthol, mint and wintergreen. 

Pratt said it won’t be illegal for someone under 21 to possess or use tobacco — the ordinance is primarily aimed at retailers.

There is a provision prohibiting people younger than 21 using a fake ID to buy tobacco products in Mendota Heights. Per the ordinance, there will also be compliance checks that could occur at convenience stores and gas stations by people under 21.

Pratt said the penalties listed in the ordinance follow state law for license holders. Individuals violating sale provisions will be subject to a $50 administrative fee. Those under 21 using a fake ID to buy tobacco products are subject to non-criminal fines.


What it’s all about 

Council member Jay Miller said this is the right decision and will have direct and positive effects on the community. 

“Even the producers of these products are starting to comprehend the gravity of the situation,” he said.

He added JUUL, which controls the majority of the e-cigarette market, has started removing the majority of its products from stores.

Council member Liz Petschel said the council received some letters that weren’t in favor of the ordinance.

“I think one told us to take care of the infrastructure and leave tobacco sales to the retailers,” she said. 

Petschel added she doesn’t think the letter writers are aware of how e-cigs are used in schools. Proponents of raising the tobacco-buying age argue legal tobacco sales at age 18 allow juniors and seniors in high school to obtain tobacco products and sell them to underclassmen.

Petschel said the council has heard from the high schools that this is a rampant problem, and by increasing the age, the council hopes to combat it.

While the council wants businesses to thrive in the city, Petschel said at some point there has to be a decision made between doing business and “putting the children in our community at risk.”

Mayor Neil Garlock pointed out the council received a lot of communications, and only got two against the ordinance.


Resident support 

Merry Grande, a resident and also associate program manager for the Minnesota Public Health Association, thanked the council for letting Mendota Heights be a leader in “this next important step in tobacco prevention,” which can stop young people from becoming addicted to nicotine.

Several students, including Henry Sibley High School junior Azu Esparza, president of the student group Anglos Latinos Motivated to Succeed, cheered on the council.

She said e-cigs are a big problem at the high school — the bathrooms have become “vape rooms.”

“We have been told tobacco is bad for us but these new products are perceived differently,” Esparza said. “People think it’s a cool or status thing to vape.”

Britney Meza presented a list of roughly 280 signatures from students at Henry Sibley High School in support of the ordinance. 

Damone Presley, who helped lead the menthol tobacco ordinance that passed in St. Paul, said the tobacco industry used menthol candy and fruit-flavored products to attract the next generation of smokers.

“To them, each new smoker, and each current smoker who can’t quit, means more profit. For us, the price is high,” he said.  

Presley said young people deserve a fair chance at growing up with a healthy lifestyle, free from tobacco addiction and the diseases associated with the use of tobacco.

The tobacco-buying age change ordinance goes into effect March 1, 2019.


–Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or

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