Pope County recently became the second county in Minnesota to raise the tobacco sales age to 21.
The Pope County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the action Dec. 7.
"I was on the fence with this, but when I see the kids, the full room, I'm reminded of the youth and why this matters," District 2 Commissioner Gordy Wagner said in a news release issued by Horizon Public Health.
The other county in Minnesota to raise the age was Otter Tail. On Tuesday, Dec. 18, Waseca became the the 21st community overall in Minnesota to raise the tobacco sales age to 21, joining the cities of Edina, Saint Louis Park, Bloomington, Plymouth, North Mankato, Falcon Heights, Shoreview, Minneapolis, Saint Peter, Richfield, Roseville, Minnetonka, Excelsior, Lauderdale, Hermantown, Brooklyn Center, Mendota Heights and Eden Prairie.
The Pope County meeting room was full with community members and students who showed up in support of the ordinance. Several community members spoke during the public hearing and urged commissioners to support the measure, known as Tobacco 21.
"Today is about keeping kids safe," Minnewaska Area School District Superintendent Chip Rankin told the board. "The amount of damage being done to their brains is not acceptable. Your job, my job, our job, is to keep our kids safe."
Youth e-cigarette use has increased nearly 50 percent in the past three years, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Nearly one in five Minnesota High School students currently uses e-cigarettes, according to the 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey.
A Minnewaska Area High School freshman told the commissioners about the prevalence of use among younger students who are getting products like JUULs, which is the top e-cigarette on the market, from older students. She asked the board to make a change.
Approximately 95 percent of current adult smokers started before they turned 21, according to health officials.