This week, Minnesota lawmakers headed home to their districts for the traditional Easter/Passover break. When they return, they will be making final decisions on a number of bills affecting tobacco. Here’s what remains to be discussed.
Both the Minnesota Senate and House have passed their tax bills, but the two bills are not in perfect alignment on tobacco taxes. The House bill includes tax cuts that benefit the tobacco industry, including a price cut and expanded definition for “premium” cigars, and a repeal of an annual tobacco tax increase that had ensured tobacco prices keep pace with inflation. Fortunately, the tax bill passed by the Senate contains neither of these provisions.
Science shows tobacco taxes are among the most useful tools for preventing youth smoking and motivating adults to quit. By making tobacco products cheaper and more accessible, both provisions included in the House bill represent backward steps for health in our state. Together with the many organizations in a coalition called Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, we will push for lawmakers in the tax conference committee to reject the changes proposed in the House bill.
FUNDING FOR TOBACCO PREVENTION AND CESSATION
Both chambers of the Legislature have also passed bills proposing budgets for the state’s health and human services programs. These bills contain good news for tobacco prevention and cessation.
First, both the Senate and House bills include funding for the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP), which gives grants to local units of government to expand opportunities for physical activity, healthy eating and tobacco-free living. We were pleased to see this ongoing commitment to a program that is funding important health initiatives around the state.
Additionally, the House bill contains funding for a tobacco cessation quitline. A state-run tobacco quitline is crucial to address tobacco-related health disparities in Minnesota. Currently, Minnesotans have access to quit-smoking support through QUITPLAN® Services, a program provided by ClearWay Minnesota. However, ClearWay Minnesota is a life-limited organization, meaning the QUITPLAN program has only a few years left. It is essential that when our QUITPLAN Services end, Minnesota tobacco users, especially those in communities disproportionately harmed by smoking, have ongoing access to a quitline.
As the Health and Human Services conference committee works on a final bill, we will advocate for full funding for both SHIP and a tobacco cessation helpline. Last year, the state collected $815 million in tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes. This is more than enough to fund prevention and treatment activities.
Governor Dayton has consistently shown support for keeping tobacco taxes high, and we will continue to urge lawmakers to make tobacco prevention and cessation top priorities for Minnesota, now and in the future.