Nearly 400 youth and adult advocates from across Minnesota rallied on February 27 at the State Capitol to urge lawmakers to address tobacco addiction and “Keep Lungs Loud.” Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a coalition of more than 60 organizations that share a common goal of saving Minnesota youth from a lifetime of addiction to tobacco, brought together residents from all across Minnesota during their annual Day at the Capitol. The activists included young students, parents, educators, physicians and other citizens concerned about commercial tobacco use.
Since last year’s Day at the Capitol, 18 Minnesota communities have passed local Tobacco 21 policies. Minnesota now has 23 cities and counties with Tobacco 21 ordinances, covering more than 22 percent of Minnesota’s population. Many locals who advocated for these lifesaving policies were present and honored at this year’s event.
“Today’s Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation Day at the Capitol is a reminder that tobacco addiction affects people all across Minnesota, in every stage of life and every single community,” said Molly Moilanen, Vice President at ClearWay MinnesotaSM and Co-Chair of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation. “Today also reminds us of the lifesaving progress we can make together through bold state and local policies. Let’s work together to tackle tobacco addiction from all angles, by passing Tobacco 21, funding quit-smoking help and strengthening our clean indoor air law.”
Following the rally, advocates met with legislators and encouraged them to prioritize tobacco prevention this session. The coalition supports three bipartisan bills that will help Minnesota save lives and money. The proposals would strengthen the state’s clean indoor air law, provide quit-smoking help for all residents, and raise the tobacco age to 21. Several lead authors of these bills joined grassroots supporters at the rally.
Grassroots supporters from the Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation coalition urged lawmakers to quickly pass these three bills. Yesterday, the Tobacco 21 bill (SF463/HF331) advanced in both houses, passing out of the House Commerce Committee and Senate Health and Human Services Policy and Finance Committee. The bill to keep indoor air clean (SF462/HF349) also advanced yesterday through the House Commerce Committee, but has not been heard yet in the Senate.
House Committee Hears Two Tobacco Funding Bills
Separately, today the House Health and Human Service Finance Committee heard two bills to fund tobacco prevention and cessation. Committee members held over both bills for potential inclusion in their HHS budget.
The first bill, HF350/SF461, provides funding for Tobacco Cessation Services. QUITPLAN® Services, the state’s free quit-smoking program, is ending in 2020. Lawmakers must fund quit-smoking resources this year so there is no gap in help for Minnesotans who are trying to quit tobacco. If Minnesota does not fund a statewide service, it will become the only state in the nation not providing one.
The second proposal, HF1058/SF1029, states that if Minnesota is successful in recouping tobacco settlement fees from delinquent cigarette brands, a portion must be dedicated to health. Specifically, approximately $12 million a year of those settlement fees would be used for tobacco prevention and control. Since 2015, several cigarette brands have not been paying their required share of settlement fees to the state of Minnesota. Tobacco companies agreed to pay these fees in perpetuity as part of 1998 Minnesota Tobacco Settlement.
“Every year, Big Tobacco causes new addictions, death and disease throughout Minnesota,” Moilanen said. “The tobacco settlement was reached in part to compensate the state for the tremendous harms of tobacco use. These cigarette companies have shirked this responsibility by refusing to pay their fair share of the settlement fees. If that wrong is righted, the best way for Minnesota to use the money is to address tobacco’s harm and help prevent the next generation of tobacco addiction.”
Tobacco use remains Minnesota’s leading cause of preventable death and disease, costing an estimated $7 billion annually and taking the lives of more than 6,300 Minnesotans every year. Smoking rates in Minnesota had been declining for decades, but the adult cigarette smoking rate has stalled out at 14 percent, and for the first time in a generation youth tobacco use has increased. In particular, the surging use of e-cigarettes is threatening the health of Minnesota teens, driving an increase in youth tobacco use that the U.S. Surgeon General has called an epidemic.