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Lung Association's Bob Moffitt looks forward to July, when cig taxes go up $1.60 per pack [INTERVIEW]

Moffitt, a former smoker himself, has arguably become Minnesota's leading anti-cigarette activist.
Moffitt, a former smoker himself, has arguably become Minnesota's leading anti-cigarette activist.

After a $1.60-per-pack cigarette tax increase goes into effect on July 1, Bob Moffitt expects many Minnesota smokers to do as he did after college and quit.

Moffitt, director of media relations for the American Lung Association in Minnesota, says he kicked his cigarette habit cold turkey many years ago, and he supports the move Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature made this session to make Minnesota's cigarette taxes the highest in the five-state area.

FROM JANUARY: Smoking is slowly becoming illegal in Minnesota

"We expect our phones to be ringing off the hook after July 1," Moffitt said. "We expect a lot of calls from people who want to quit."

According to WCCO, as of July 1, a pack of cigs in Minnesota will cost 31 cents more than in Wisconsin and $2.39 more than in North Dakota. Some think that disparity could create a thriving black market for cigarettes in Minnesota, but Moffitt argues "too much is made" of that concern.

"A lot of anti-tax groups and pro-tobacco groups very aggressively push the smuggling and black market idea and in states that have [raised cig taxes], generally speaking it has never turned out to be a big problem," Moffitt said. "There is always going to be some degree of somebody breaking the law somewhere."

Moffitt pointed out that despite North Dakota having cheaper cigarettes than Minnesota for years, most Land of 10,000 Lakes smokers don't go to the trouble of traveling to NoDak for smokes or ordering them online. He doesn't expect a dramatic change now that Minnesota's taxes are going up again.

Asked what he expects to see in the months and years after the July 1 tax hike goes into effect, Moffitt said that "unless Minnesota is different from every other state in the union that has done this, we're going to see a drop in overall smoking. But we're particularly going to see a drop in youth smoking."

"For every 10 percent increase in the real price of a pack of cigarettes, you're going to see a 3 to 4 percent overall drop in smoking rates, but a 7 percent drop in youth smoking," he continued. "That's the one thats really important -- that's what we've got to bring down here."

So why not just ban cigarettes altogether?

"Well, we've never called for a total ban or prohibition on smoking," Moffitt replied. "As a nation we tried prohibition once and we know how that worked out for us. [But] considering that 90 percent of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease cases and lung cancer cases are directly tied to smoking, if there's anything we can do to bring down the smoking rate, we're going to save an awful lot of lives. If we run the numbers, a $1.60-per-pack tax increase is going to save about 47,000 Minnesota kids from getting addicted."

We also asked Moffitt about the Lung Association's views on alcohol taxes. After all, many of the same public health arguments used to bolster the case for higher cig taxes can be used in support of raising beer taxes, can't they?

(To read the rest of the interview, click to page two.)

 

"The American Lung Association doesn't have any position at all on alcohol tax. But I think sometimes the alcohol and fast food arguments are used as distractions," Moffitt said. "In any discussion on the health effects of tobacco, sooner or later someone jumps in and says, 'What about fast food and what about alcohol? They're much worse.' I try and steer them back and say, 'Yeah, but right now the topic is tobacco.'"

Moffitt also said the Lung Association hasn't yet taken a position on reforming Minnesota's marijuana laws, which promises to be a hot topic at the Capitol next session.

Finally, we asked Moffitt about e-cigarettes, which seem to be emerging as an increasingly popular way for smokers of traditional cigarettes to try to quit or get their nicotine fix without having to head outdoors.

"Well, we certainly don't recommend them as a healthy alternative to cigarettes," Moffitt said. "There's the concern that the e-cig industry is largely unregulated, we're not sure what's in some of these packets -- where they are being made, what sort of standards are they being held to? I certainly wouldn't want to put one of those things in my mouth."

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at arupar@citypages.com.


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