Right now, Minnesota is in a precarious spot when it comes to combating the leading cause of preventable death and disease – tobacco addiction. This year, the state faces a prevention funding cliff at the same time we’re experiencing a youth tobacco epidemic, tobacco-related health disparities, stalled adult smoking rates and a respiratory pandemic.
Thankfully, there is a straightforward solution. If Minnesota invests just a fraction of tobacco tax revenue into prevention, we can reduce addiction, save money and save lives.
There are ample resources. The state collects hundreds of millions in tobacco revenue including nearly $760 million last year. Yet very little of that revenue – about one penny on the dollar – is currently invested in prevention and treatment.
We can do better and Minnesota has a prime opportunity to achieve that goal. Just weeks ago, Minnesota reached a settlement that will bring in an additional $81 million in tobacco fees now and more than $10 million a year going forward.
Minnesota lawmakers can dedicate just a portion of tobacco revenues to prevention and treatment – and we urge our leaders make these investments a top priority in this state budget.
We must continue these efforts so long as our kids are relentlessly targeted by an industry that views them as “replacement smokers” and future profits. While Minnesota has achieved historically low levels of youth smoking, e-cigarette use has wiped out decades of progress to reduce youth tobacco rates.
In late February, the Minnesota Department of Health released data from the 2020 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey, which found one in five Minnesota high-schoolers reported using e-cigarettes within the past 30 days, and 70% of youth e-cigarette users reported signs of dependence. The youth e-cigarette epidemic is a disturbing trend that threatens our future health and workforce.
The need is urgent. For more than two decades, the majority of tobacco prevention efforts has been funded by ClearWay Minnesota, the foundation created with 3 percent of the tobacco settlement. ClearWay Minnesota is a life-limited organization and will sunset at the end of 2021.
It’s time to pass the baton back to the state. Minnesota can dedicate tobacco revenues to sustainable, proven strategies to reduce youth tobacco use and help smokers quit. In particular, these efforts will support populations most targeted by Big Tobacco, including youth and Black, American Indian, LGBTQ and other communities of color.
Our kids and neighbors targeted by the tobacco industry deserve strong prevention policies that put public health ahead of tobacco profits. The Governor and Legislature – led by Taxes Chair Rep. Paul Marquardt – have put forward bipartisan solutions to solve this funding gap and boost underfunded tobacco prevention programs at the Minnesota Department of Health. Let’s include one of these solutions in the final budget.
Janelle Waldock is senior director of policy for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and co-chair of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation.
Molly Moilanen is vice president at ClearWay MinnesotaSM and co-chair of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation