Just a couple of months into the new school year, an alarming number of Otter Tail County students have been exposed to a widespread and fast-growing health problem: e-cigarettes.

As a longtime health advocate and proud resident of Fergus Falls, I have once again witnessed a  generation becoming addicted to tobacco products.  The same argument used for regular cigarettes years ago permeates the idea that e-cigs are “cool.”  Peers using e-cigarettes, social media, and advertising promote this idea.  The devices are pervasive and easy to hide.

The Minnesota Student Survey found 1 in 4 11th-graders had used an e-cigarette in the past month and the rate of use nearly doubled among eighth-graders from 2016 to 2019. The U.S. surgeon general has called e-cigarette use an “epidemic” among young people.

Otter Tail County leadership stepped up against Big Tobacco, making 21 our county’s tobacco age.  They are now considering removing the grandfather provisions for young people under the age of 21, but over 18.  I applaud our county commissioners for considering this revision.

Fergus Falls and Otter Tail County have always been leaders in protecting our youth from the hazards of any tobacco use.  From the days of outlawing tobacco vending machines and moving tobacco behind the counter, our leaders have fought Big Tobacco’s blatant attempts to hook our youth on nicotine products.  As residents of a “Tobacco 21” county, we are uniquely positioned to influence additional change.  We can take our voices and stories to state lawmakers and advocate that Minnesota raises the tobacco age to 21.  Local policies are great, but it is time we do more to protect our young people from lifetimes of addiction and disease due to tobacco products.

Desta Hunt

Fergus Falls

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