Maybe it takes a public health epidemic to finally get both sides of the aisle to agree on something in St. Paul.
The epidemic in question is the use of electronic cigarettes and other products used for vaping. Three Minnesotans have died from lung diseases related to vaping, and 84 have sustained lung injuries associated with vaping, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
"We are seeing a public health epidemic of injury in addition to addiction that I think has kicked this up a notch in terms of what our response is," said Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan. "We're not waiting anymore. There's no wait-and-see to see if these things are dangerous. We know they're dangerous.
Halverson is among state legislators pushing for regulation of some sort. To date, most of the proposals are coming from the DFL, but Republicans, including Sen. Carla Nelson, of Rochester, have indicated they're interested in getting on board.
"I truly think that this incredible vaping epidemic, no one can be in the same place we were a year ago," Nelson said. "We know that big problems require all hands on deck, and that's what you see today."
Lawmakers say young people have been especially targeted by ads claiming that vaping is safer than smoking. That might be one reason why the number of 11th graders in the state who have reported vaping jumped by 54 percent between 2016 and 2019. Vaping among eighth-graders nearly doubled during that same time frame.
Proposals in St. Paul include raising the age for purchase of tobacco products to 21 statewide, a ban on flavored tobacco products, and shutting down online sales of tobacco and vaping products.
In the 2019 session of the Legislature, a proposal to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco to 21 couldn't get a hearing the Republican-controlled Senate. So it's encouraging to hear Nelson and other Republicans say they're now open to consideration of reforms. The DFL-controlled House is likely to pass a package of tobacco- and vaping-related measures in the next session.
It's time for action. Foot-dragging is only going to result in more harm to the health of young people in the state.
Minnesota has a long history as a leader in legislation related to health matters, especially smoking. We see legislation to combat the vaping epidemic as the next important step in that tradition.
This editorial is the opinion of the Rochester Post-Bulletin's editorial board.