Minn. receives mixed review on smoking prevention 'report card'by Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Smoking prevention and control efforts in Minnesota received a mixed review from the American Lung Association in a "report card" released Tuesday.
The annual "State of Tobacco Control" report lauded Minnesota for helping low-income residents quit smoking, but criticized the state for failing to increase the cigarette tax to fund anti-smoking efforts.
The nonprofit gave Minnesota an "A" for smoking cessation coverage -- one of only six states to receive the top grade. The state's Medicaid program provides coverage for several medications to help low-income people quit smoking.
But the agency gave 40 states, including Minnesota, an "F" for spending less than 50 percent of the amount recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for tobacco prevention and control.
According to the report, Minnesota will spend about $21.5 million on these efforts in the 2010 fiscal year, about $37 million less than CDC recommendations.
Robert Moffitt, spokesperson for the American Lung Association in Minnesota, said that a lack of adequate funding could cause the state's health care costs to spiral further upward.
"This is a commitment we need to make, because if we don't invest in helping prevent smoking now, it's only going to come back and bite us a lot worse later," Moffitt said.
About 17.6 percent of adult Minnesotans smoke, less than the national average of 20.6 percent.
But the state's smoking rates for high school students are higher than the national average. About 23 percent of high school students in Minnesota smoke, compared to 20 percent nationwide.
Moffitt said that Gov. Tim Pawlenty's decision to end funding for a teen anti-smoking program in 2003 has contributed to the high rate. The governor used part of the state's tobacco settlement money to balance the budget that year, eliminating funding for the teen-focused "Target Market" program.
"With our high school students, we really have not had a consistent program where we've really focused on them," Moffitt said.
The agency gave Minnesota an "A" for smoke-free air policies and a "C" for cigarette taxes. Cigarette users pay $1.56 a pack in state-imposed taxes.
North Dakota was the only state to meet CDC funding guidelines in 2009.
"If North Dakota can do it, by golly, Minnesota should be able to do it, too," Moffitt said.
The report estimates that more than 443,000 Americans die each year due to tobacco-related diseases -- the rough equivalent to the combined populations of Minneapolis and Duluth.
The American Lung Association's has a free telephone service to help people quit smoking: 1-800-548-8252.