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Heart of New Ulm Tobacco 21 Campaign coming this fall

Across Minnesota, from St. Peter and Mankato to Twin Cities’ suburbs and Duluth, Tobacco 21 (T-21) efforts are gaining ground. According to the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation’s Tobacco 21 website (tobacco21.org), as of May 2019, more than 34 Minnesota communities had passed laws to raise the minimum legal sale age for tobacco products to 21.

This fall, the Heart of New Ulm Leadership Team is planning to partner with the Brown County Underage Substance Abuse Coalition (USAC) on a communications campaign. The campaign seeks to educate the New Ulm community about the harmful effects of nicotine on teens and the benefits of a local T-21 law. The plan is to bring the suggestion for a new law to the New Ulm City Council at the end of 2019 or early 2020.  

“One of our three key focus areas with the Heart of New Ulm is addiction and risky use of substances,” said Sarah Leslie, a former pharmacist at New Ulm Medical Center, who now serves as a community member on the Heart of New Ulm Leadership Team. “As community members and parents, we’re deeply concerned about teen tobacco use and addiction and the long-lasting effects on teens’ health. Most people are aware that tobacco use puts their heart at risk for damage and future heart attack and stroke as adults, but research shows that highly addictive nicotine can harm brain development during the teen years,” Leslie explained.

The news is of particular concern for teens in rural communities. A January 2019 Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) report “Teen Tobacco Use in Rural Minnesota” notes that rural teens start earlier, use more often and use smokeless tobacco products. MDH states that products like cigarettes and smokeless tobacco continue to have a stronger hold in rural areas due to decades of targeted marketing by the tobacco industry, which integrated tobacco use into rural culture. Rural youth are at higher risk for harm to brain development because they tend to begin using tobacco products at a younger age and use tobacco products more frequently.

The report cites that among students who reported smoking cigarettes within the past 30 days, 46 percent of rural students reported they were age 12 or younger when they first tried cigarettes. In comparison, 29 percent of Twin Cities metro students and 10 percent of small community metro students were age 12 or younger when they smoked their first cigarette. Rural students who currently use e-cigarettes similarly were more likely than students living in other areas to have tried them at age 12 or younger.

Scientific research in the report notes that people who begin using tobacco products at an earlier age are more likely to become addicted to nicotine and to be more powerfully addicted than those who start when they are older. The younger adolescents are when they start using nicotine, the more harmful and long-lasting the effects can be due to permanent changes in brain development.

Watch for the T-21 campaign coming to New Ulm this fall. To get involved with the Heart of New Ulm’s efforts to propose a local T-21 law, contact Jen Maurer, coordinator, Community Health Programs, the Heart of New Ulm, at 507-217-5226, or Jennifer.Maurer@allina.com.