ClearWay Minnesota will close its doors for good at the end of 2021. Founded with the state’s tobacco settlement, the limited-life organization has spent the past 24 years using proven science and innovative programs to reduce the harms caused by cigarette smoking and other commercial tobacco use.
“Minnesotans should be proud of this historic investment,” said David J. Willoughby, ClearWay Minnesota’s CEO of 21 years. “ClearWay Minnesota was a great experiment, conceived by some very brave individuals who stood up to the tobacco industry in the 1990s as an organization that would have maximum impact on the commercial tobacco problem over a relatively short period of time.”
Founded in 1998 with 3 percent ($202 million) of the settlement Minnesota received after suing major cigarette manufacturers, and built on CDC best practices, ClearWay Minnesota was a comprehensive organization, with a scope of work among the broadest of any commercial tobacco prevention organization in the country. ClearWay Minnesota’s flagship program was QUITPLAN® Services, which gave quitting help to 200,000 Minnesotans. Based in proven science, QUITPLAN Services took a compassionate approach and promised “No Judgments, Just Help.” ClearWay Minnesota also gave $33 million in grants to researchers, leading studies like the Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey and the Tribal Tobacco Use Project.
ClearWay Minnesota led advocacy coalitions to pass major policies like the lifesaving Freedom to Breathe Act and Tobacco 21, and with partners, helped dedicate state resources to replace QUITPLAN Services and secure new investments for future prevention efforts. The organization’s award-winning advertising educated Minnesotans about smoking’s harms and the quitting help available to them. ClearWay Minnesota was also known for its innovative work to improve equity within Minnesota communities, partnering with American Indian tribes to restore traditional tobacco ways, working with African American advocates to weaken the grip of menthol, and giving communities of color and LGBTQ leaders tools to address commercial tobacco among their people.
“The tobacco industry’s long history of targeting American Indian, Black, LGBTQ and other communities is a driver of the disparities we see today,” said Willoughby. “Here in Minnesota, there is so much more to do to take on an industry that continues to profit off death and disease, including passing statewide legislation ending the sale of menthol cigarettes and all flavored tobacco. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised awareness of the need to protect lung health, especially among young people and those hit hardest by commercial tobacco-related disparities.”
The tobacco industry still spends $100 million a year in Minnesota. Their ongoing efforts to attract individuals to tobacco products has led to high youth vaping rates, discouraged quitting and undermined policy solutions that protect health.
While founded with $202 million of the tobacco settlement, ClearWay Minnesota was able to spend $284 million on activities to reduce smoking through stewardship of its settlement funding. The organization’s initiatives helped Minnesota realize the lowest smoking rates in state history, equaling lives saved, better quality of life, and lower health care costs for individuals and families. One study conducted by HealthPartners Institute found activities by ClearWay Minnesota and partners prevented over 4,500 cancers and tens of thousands of hospitalizations for smoking-related diseases. $5.1 billion dollars was also saved in health costs and work productivity. Together, ClearWay Minnesota and partners prevented over 4,000 smoking-attributable deaths. These numbers will continue increasing as nonsmokers live longer, and have healthier lives in the future.
ClearWay Minnesota was founded to have a maximum lifespan of 25 years, and is on track to complete its dissolution activities by the end of 2021. As its sunset approaches, the organization has donated many assets to the Minnesota Historical Society, so they will be available to researchers and the public long into the future. ClearWay Minnesota’s media campaigns will remain available through the CDC’s Media Campaign Resource Center, ensuring the organization’s creative and provocative ads continue reducing commercial tobacco’s harm in Minnesota and throughout the country.
In its final years, ClearWay Minnesota worked with other organizations to ensure a sustainable legacy that would continue helping individuals into the future. Minnesotans can still get help quitting commercial tobacco use through Quit Partner, a program of the Minnesota Department of Health, and can become involved with supporting commercial tobacco prevention policies through the Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation coalition.
“Minnesotans should be proud of this historic experiment,” said Willoughby. “Thank you to the visionaries who created us and the partners who collaborated with us. With Minnesotans’ continued commitment, we know we are leaving Minnesota’s health in good hands.”
- ClearWay Minnesota’s Sunset and Legacy Report: http://clearwaymn.org/clearway-minnesotas-sunset-and-legacy/
- Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey: http://clearwaymn.org/mats/
- Tribal Tobacco Use Program: https://americanindiancancer.org/aicaf-project/tribal-tobacco-use-program/
- Quit Partner: https://quitpartnermn.com/
- Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation: https://www.smokefreegenmn.org/