ST. PAUL — The House Health Finance and Policy Committee heard last week two tobacco prevention funding bills authored by Rep. Kelly Morrison, M.D., DFL-Deephaven, for consideration in the biennial budget proposal.

Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a coalition of more than 60 organizations working to reduce youth tobacco use and end tobacco’s harm for good, supports both bills, which would invest $15 million a year in tobacco prevention and treatment.

“Reducing tobacco’s harm is a public health success story … unfortunately, our work isn’t done,” said chief author Rep. Morrison. “As a physician, mother and elected leader I am deeply concerned about smoking and the epidemic of youth tobacco use. These proposals would mean that instead of spending just one penny of every dollar of tobacco revenue on prevention, we would be spending about two or three pennies. This investment will pay dividends — by lowering smoking rates, preventing youth addiction and easing health disparities.”

Last year, Minnesota collected nearly $760 million in tobacco revenue – including taxes and settlement fees – and spent only one percent of that total on tobacco prevention and treatment. Rep. Morrison’s first bill HF569/SF684, would boost investments by $15 million a year from the general fund to the state’s tobacco prevention and treatment programs at the Minnesota Department of Health. The second bill does not have a House File yet (HFXXX) and was heard the past two legislative sessions. The proposal would dedicate a portion of funds ($15 million a year), if and when the state recoups revenues from companies that have failed to pay their share of tobacco settlement fees. The State of Minnesota is suing to recover these commitments and the parties are currently in settlement negotiations.

Rep. Morrison’s bills are the start of several bipartisan proposals in both chambers that will provide the Legislature with options for how to invest additional dollars in tobacco prevention. There is an urgent need to increase tobacco prevention and treatment. Minnesota faces stalled adult smoking rates and commercial tobacco causes disproportionate harms in Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ and other communities targeted by the tobacco industry. The COVID-19 pandemic adds urgency to prevention efforts, since current and former smokers are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. To make matters worse, communities targeted by the tobacco industry are some of the hardest hit by COVID-19.

For more than two decades ClearWay MinnesotaSM, the foundation created with 3 percent of the tobacco settlement, has provided the majority of funding for tobacco prevention in Minnesota. ClearWay Minnesota will sunset at the end of 2021, leaving a gap in prevention resources.

“ClearWay Minnesota was created as a life-limited organization and we will sunset at the end of this year. As we reach our sunset, tobacco remains a threat, especially when it comes to the youth e-cigarette epidemic and racial disparities,” said Molly Moilanen, Vice President at ClearWay MinnesotaSM and Co-Chair of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation. “We are committed to working with the legislature on finding a sustainable solution.”

In addition to racial disparities and the COVID-19 pandemic, Minnesota needs an all-hands-on-deck approach to reverse the youth tobacco epidemic and protect the next generation from lifelong addiction. Youth vaping has erased decades of progress to reduce youth tobacco use and an estimated 3.6 million young Americans use e-cigarettes. The 2019 Minnesota Student Survey found 26 percent of 11th-graders and 11 percent of 8th-graders use e-cigarettes (a 54 percent and 95 percent increase, respectively, since 2016).

A recent report from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids found that Minnesota fell to 20th among U.S. states in tobacco prevention spending, down from 14th in 2019. Today, Minnesota spends less than North Dakota and South Dakota in terms of meeting what the CDC recommends. The American Lung Association’s 2021 State of Tobacco Control report also gave Minnesota an “F” for tobacco prevention and cessation funding.

In late December, the Minnesota House Select Committee on Racial Justice made a number of policy recommendations to address racial disparities, including funding tobacco prevention and treatment at the CDC-recommended level and ending the sale of menthol and all flavored tobacco products.

Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation urges lawmakers to take a comprehensive approach to reduce youth tobacco use, including increasing tobacco prices, ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products and investing in tobacco prevention programs.

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