Since Aug. 1, all Minnesotans can breathe easier. That day, a new law went into effect that prohibits the use of e-cigarettes in workplaces where smoking is already banned.

The law expands the definition of smoking in the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act to protect the public from harmful e-cigarette aerosol in public places like restaurants, bars and stores. Until now, only 50% of Minnesotans have been covered by local policies that prohibit e-cigarette use in those indoor spaces.

This change is the culmination of a long fight by health advocates to include e-cigarettes in the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act.

Protecting all Minnesotans from e-cigarette aerosol was proposed in the State Legislature as early as 2014, but it wasn’t until this year that a bill made it through the process and was signed into law as part of the Health and Human Services budget bill. Overwhelming bipartisan support for this policy comes at a time when e-cigarette devices are driving an unprecedented spike in youth tobacco use in Minnesota and across the country.   

Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a coalition of more than 60 organizations that share a common goal of reducing youth smoking and ending tobacco’s harm for good, celebrated the strengthening of Minnesota’s clean air policy. The law will improve health for Minnesota residents and send a message to youth that e-cigarettes are not safe.

“Starting Aug. 1, every Minnesotan will be able to breathe the clean indoor air they deserve and expect,” said Molly Moilanen, vice president at ClearWay MinnesotaSM and Co-Chair of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation. “E-cigarette aerosol encroaches on our freedom to breathe, and indoor vaping sends a misleading message to youth that e-cigarettes are safe. Thank you to legislative leaders and Governor Walz for continuing Minnesota’s leadership on clean air and health.”

Minnesota’s expanded definition of smoking covers the range of tobacco products on the market now and anticipates new products that may emerge in the future.

E-cigarette aerosol contains nicotine, heavy metals, formaldehyde and other carcinogens and harmful chemicals. The long-term impact on the health of users or those exposed to secondhand e-cigarette aerosol is unknown since there have been no long-term studies conducted.

Tobacco use remains Minnesota’s leading cause of preventable death and disease, taking the lives of more than 6,300 Minnesotans every year and costing an estimated $7 billion annually.

Smoking rates in Minnesota had been declining for decades, but the adult cigarette smoking rate has stalled out at 14%, and for the first time in a generation youth tobacco use has increased. In particular, surging e-cigarette use is threatening the health of Minnesota teens and young adults.

Indoor, public e-cigarette use – especially when allowed in places where cigarette smoking is prohibited – may re-normalize smoking and further threaten Minnesota’s progress to reduce youth tobacco use. The U.S. Surgeon General calls teen e-cigarette use an epidemic. National surveys found that from 2017 to 2018, youth vaping increased 78% – the largest increase in adolescent substance use ever recorded.

Locally, the 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey found that nearly one in five high-schoolers is using e-cigarettes and 40% have tried them. That survey was conducted before JUUL and other e-cigarettes gained massive popularity among students.

“Expanding our clean indoor air act to prohibit e-cigarettes protects the health of all Minnesotans,” Moilanen added. “This law sends a clear message that Minnesota is serious about combating surging teen nicotine use – but there is so much more we can do to protect our kids from lifetime addiction, including raising the tobacco age to 21 and funding robust tobacco prevention.”

To date, 18 states and 40 Minnesota cities and counties have adopted Tobacco 21 policies. Raising the tobacco sale age to 21 will help reduce youth smoking and save lives, since 95% of addicted adult smokers started before age 21. The National Academy of Medicine estimates that Tobacco 21 would reduce smoking among 15-to-17-year-olds by 25%.

Sustainable funding for tobacco prevention is especially critical as ClearWay Minnesota, a major funder of such programs, comes to the end of its limited life by 2022. Last year, Minnesota took in more than $750 million in settlement fees and tobacco taxes – yet less than 1% of that was used for tobacco prevention or cessation.

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