mAnkato: A new report released Wednesday gave minnesota an ugly grade when it came to tobacco prevention
Minnesota received an F in the category in the American Lung Association’s latest state of tobacco control grades. Another F rating was for the state’s lack of restrictions on flavored tobacco products. The state did receive an A for other smoking restrictions, a B in tobacco taxes and another B for access to cessation services. The problem, according to the association, is funding for the cessation programs falls woefully short of recommendations. More funding is needed to counteract what tobacco companies spend to attract new smokers, said Pat McKone, the Lung Association’s senior director of health promotions.
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“(The grade is based on what) a state should set aside to fully fund a comprehensive tobacco control program that’s focused on reducing youth initiation and supporting people who want to quit to keep up with the millions of dollars that the industry pours in to get new customers,” she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend Minnesota steer $52.9 million in funding toward tobacco control programs. Minnesota is only using about $14 million in fiscal year 2021 for such programs, according to the report.
In comparison, the state’s tobacco-related revenues are reportedly more than $706 million with only a fraction of it used on prevention programs. The report came out a day after Gov. Tim Walz proposed a new tobacco tax that would raise the price of vaping products and cigarettes.
McKone and other tobacco-control advocates applauded the proposal.
“It really is a triple win for our state in that it reduces health care costs, it improves health and it can fund a tobacco prevention program,” McKone said.
Young people brought up the price of products quite a bit when Minnesota State University hosted an event encouraging students and staff to turn in their vaping and tobacco products in fall 2020, said Mary Kramer, assistant professor in MSU’s health science department.
“There’s a direct relationship between the price of the tobacco and when youth start,” she said. “It’s clear we must take steps to increase the price and, of course, the money we gain I’d love to see put right back into education, prevention and cessation.”
Pushing for more prevention funding will be one of several priorities for advocates this year. Resuming efforts to restrict flavored tobacco sales will be high on the list as well.
Advocates were working with legislators on restricting flavored sales, including menthol, last year before the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up in Minnesota. Addressing COVID then took priority, leading the work to be pushed back to this year.
Limiting flavored tobacco sales is seen as a way to further keep young people from being exposed to products early. Mankato, Minnesota and the federal government all raised the tobacco-buying age to 21 in recent years for the same reason.
That step, along with amending the clean air law to include e-cigarettes, were positive developments, McKone said. The latter helped earn Minnesota its A rating for “smokefree air.”
Mankato’s tobacco 21 law took effect in 2019 followed by the state’s law in 2020. While rates of youth tobacco use and vaping are down, the pandemic complicates attempts to figure out if it’s due to the raised age limit.
Schools and other places where young people would normally access products weren’t open as much. So tobacco 21 laws could’ve had an effect, but the pandemic and the closures coming with it likely did as well.
“Before the pandemic was raging, the vaping epidemic was raging,” McKone said. “A lot has changed with access and schools.”
For people interested in quitting smoking, she recommended they check out the state’s new Quit Partner program. It has various programs offered via phone, text or email along with free quit kits.
Locally, Kramer is offering free monthly virtual workshops to share strategies to help people quit. She first offered them in November to MSU students and staff after she completed a training through Mayo Clinic to become a certified tobacco treatment specialist.
Kramer said she was pleasantly surprised with the response and decided to open it up to anyone in southern Minnesota. Part of the reason people sought it out, she suspects, is the recognition they’re at higher risk for COVID if they smoke.
“We know that people who use tobacco not only are more likely to get infected but once infected are more likely to suffer more serious consequences,” she said. “‘It’s a good time to think about knocking out that addiction.”
People shouldn’t feel shame for using tobacco, she said. It’s an addiction, and talking with others about it could help.
Kramer’s next workshops are scheduled for Feb. 17, March 12 and April 15. For more information, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/strategies-to-quit-tobacco-tickets-126834835407.
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