A small but bipartisan group of Minnesota legislators during the abbreviated 2018 session in St. Paul is hoping to pass a bill that would raise the legal age to buy tobacco products in the state from 18 to 21. A few cities in Minnesota have passed their own local laws establishing the same rule, as have a handful of other states.

    The proposed law in Minnesota would put the onus on retailers to not sell tobacco products to underage people. If anyone under age 21 is caught smoking they wouldn’t get in trouble, but if a merchant is nabbed selling tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21, they’d face punishment.

    It certainly sounds like an initiative worth getting behind. After all, everyone loves to pile on the anti-tobacco and anti-smoking bandwagon, right? 

    But, strangely, the argument by proponents of this bill, that they want to follow in the footsteps of the 2007 Freedom to Breathe Act that made it illegal for people to smoke in public places and, in the process, expose those around them to their awful secondhand smoke, seems a bit misguided.

    Smoke from cigarettes is terrible on many levels and for many reasons, so why should people who want nothing to do with smoking have to be in public next to those who choose to puff away? But smokers can still smoke on their own in places where they are allowed, and they basically have a right to do so even though they and everyone else knows that it’s bad for their health. They know smoking cigarettes is bad for them when they’re 10 years old. They know it’s bad for them when they’re 14, 16 and 18 years old, too. They are certainly well aware of that fact as 21-year-old full-fledged adults, too. If they want to harm themselves by smoking when they’re younger than age 21, they’ll get their cigarettes.

    You could argue that if the legislation, known as “Tobacco 21” prevents one young adult from lighting up, it’s worth it. Maybe, but there’s a reason people have always argued things like “If you’re old enough to serve your country, you should be able to” buy an alcoholic beverage or use tobacco. It’s because it’s a good argument.

    It seems telling that if you get caught drinking alcohol when you’re under age 21 you get in trouble. But with this “Tobacco 21” proposed legislation, if you get caught smoking supposedly underage, you’re in the clear. But the retailer who sold the tobacco to the underage person, they’re in trouble?

    Everyone knows smoking is just plain terrible. Young people are starting to learn that vaping is plenty unhealthy, too. We live in an anti-smoking culture already. This legislation, when factoring in the degree of its positive impact, seems like unnecessary piling on.