American Lung Association: Minnesota should do more to prevent smoking

The American Lung Association thinks Minnesota should do more to counteract tobacco use.

In its annual report, the ALA gives the state an "F" grade in the area of spending on tobacco prevention and control and a "C" with regard to cigarette taxation levels. On the flipside, Minnesota gets an "A" when it comes to having smokefree air.

Bob Moffitt, communications director for the ALA in Minnesota, said one of the most important things the state can do going forward is to prevent kids from lighting up, both through advertising and by making cigarettes more expensive.

According to Moffitt, the state currently spends about $19.5 million annually on tobacco prevention. He would like to see that amount increased to the Center for Disease Control's recommended level, which is about $58 million.

That money would "counteract the billions that tobacco companies pour into all types of advertising," he said, adding that "when you go into a convenience store and see all the signs for tobacco products, lots of them at eye level, and lots of them marketing fruit-flavored tobaccos, stuff that adults normally wouldn't go for -- it's pretty nefarious."

The ALA would also like to see Minnesota increase its cigarette tax, which currently clocks in at a close-to-the-national-average $1.56 per-pack.

Referring to the protracted wrangling state legislators engaged in last summer to close a $5 billion budget shortfall, Moffitt said a cigarette tax increase would've been "a real smart way to fill that gap."

The ALA's report does give Minnesota high marks in some areas, including an "A" for air quality thanks to the statewide smoking ban in workplaces, bars, restaurants, and public buildings.

Furthermore, less Minnesotans are smoking than five years ago. For adults, the smoking rate has dropped to 14.9 percent in 2011 from 18.3 percent in 2007. 19.1 percent of high schoolers were smokers last year, compared to 22.4 percent a half-decade ago.

Though some believe the state has overstepped its bounds in imposing punitive cigarette taxes and banning smoking just about everywhere, Moffitt argued that the $3.2 billion smoking costs Minnesota in terms of health care expenses and lost productivity is a burden on everyone.

"When you figure out the medical costs, the insurance premiums -- we taxpayers end up paying for that," he said.

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