A “funding cliff” is coming, warn those who’ve been working tirelessly for decades to snuff out smoking in Minnesota and the use of tobacco products.
ClearWay Minnesota is set to disband at the end of this year, in accordance with the same state statute that created the stop-smoking group in 1998. A 3% slice of the $6.1 billion the tobacco industry paid to the state to settle a suit claiming it deceived Minnesotans about the harmful nature of its products was used to make the group a reality.
So this legislative session in St. Paul, ClearWay, joined by Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation and like-minded others, have been lobbying lawmakers for replacement funding and to continue the tobacco-prevention work that effectively has been clearing the air, getting Minnesotans to quit or not start, and improving health. Before it all tumbles over the cliff.
The money certainly is there to continue the work, even if ClearWay soon won’t be. Just a month or so ago, two tobacco companies paid the state $81 million in settlement back payments, and they are expected to continue paying the state at least $10 million annually. And that’s in addition to nearly $760 million the state collected in just 2020 in other settlement fees and tobacco-tax revenues.
Despite all the cash coming in, Minnesota spends only 1% of it on tobacco prevention and treatment, according to ClearWay and Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation.
“The state should invest in sustainable, proven strategies to reduce youth tobacco use and help smokers quit,” the groups argued in an editorial memo sent to newspapers April 23. “Dedicating cigarette tax revenue or tobacco settlement fees to prevention and treatment will address concerning youth tobacco use and declining state resources.”
As smokers quit, the tobacco industry targets kids, including in Minnesota, as replacements, according to the smoking-cessation experts. As a result, one in five Minnesota high-schoolers reported using e-cigarettes within the past 30 days, and 70% of youth e-cigarette users indicated signs of dependency in a youth tobacco survey conducted last year.
“While Minnesota has achieved historically low levels of youth smoking, e-cigarette use has wiped out decades of progress to reduce youth tobacco rates,” the editorial memo pointed out. “Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease, costing residents more than $7 billion a year and taking the lives of 6,300 Minnesotans annually. Smoking causes disproportionate harm to communities targeted by the tobacco industry, including Black, American Indian and LGBTQ Minnesotans.”
Several bipartisan strategies have been proposed or introduced this legislative session to avoid the coming funding cliff and to continue the important tobacco-prevention efforts through the Minnesota Department of Health. One would dedicate $15 million a year of existing cigarette taxes to prevention and treatment. Another would invest $8 million annually in tobacco prevention and treatment from the state’s general fund, recouped with tobacco-settlement fees. And a third would allocate, one time only, $5 million from existing cigarette taxes to tobacco prevention and treatment.
As ClearWay and Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation put it, “Sustainable tobacco prevention funding — no matter how we do it — will create a healthier future for Minnesota. … Increasing our investment from one penny per dollar of tobacco revenue to two or three pennies will reduce addiction (and) save money and lives.”
All Minnesotans can join these experts and advocates in insisting that our work over decades — to clear the air and to snuff out cigs and other harmful, cancer-causing nicotine products — isn’t squandered. Adequate state investment needs to continue.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Duluth News Tribune.