This week, ClearWay Minnesota’s Board of Directors will celebrate our nonprofit tobacco control organization’s 20th anniversary. Founded with the state’s tobacco settlement, we have spent the past 20 years using proven science and innovative programs to reduce the burden caused by smoking and nicotine addiction in our state.
“The dramatic decrease in smoking in recent decades is one of the greatest public health accomplishments in Minnesota history,” said Laurie Lafontaine, ClearWay Minnesota’s Board Chair. “ClearWay Minnesota has been at the center of a movement to help smokers quit and stop kids from ever starting.”
Today, smoking rates among Minnesota adults and youth are at all-time lows. The anniversary also follows a new study showing other results of our work since the settlement. Conducted by HealthPartners Institute, the study found activities by ClearWay Minnesota and other health organizations have prevented thousands of Minnesota deaths, prevented tens of thousands of hospitalizations from smoking-related diseases, and saved more than $5 billion in excess health care costs and lost worker productivity.
Founded in 1998, ClearWay Minnesota was created with 3 percent ($202 million) of the settlement Minnesota received from the cigarette companies following a long legal battle. National and state leaders and health experts, including Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop, FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler, Minnesota Attorney General Skip Humphrey and Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Richard Hurt, helped create a plan to administer ClearWay Minnesota as an independent nonprofit with a 25-year lifespan.
Over the course of the past two decades, we have grown to be among the most comprehensive tobacco control organizations in the country. Its work encompasses cessation, marketing and communications, research, public affairs and community development activities.
Highlights of ClearWay Minnesota’s work include:
- QUITPLAN® Services, a free, cutting-edge program that’s given quitting help to 175,000 Minnesotans;
- Leadership of a health coalition that’s helped pass major local and statewide policies like Tobacco 21, flavored tobacco restrictions, cigarette price increases and the Freedom to Breathe Act;
- $30 million in grants given to scientists studying tobacco issues and exploring new ways to eliminate its harms;
- Innovative research projects like the Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey, the best source of data about smoking and tobacco use in the state;
- Investments in the communities most affected by smoking’s harms, such as partnerships with tribes working to restore traditional tobacco practices and reduce commercial tobacco abuse; and
- Major advertising campaigns that have educated about tobacco’s harms and encouraged Minnesota smokers to seek quitting help.
“These accomplishments show what happens when proven strategies are applied to a critical health issue like smoking,” said David Willoughby, ClearWay Minnesota’s Chief Executive Officer since 2000. “QUITPLAN Services are scheduled to end in 2020, with ClearWay Minnesota closing our doors a few years later. With the tobacco industry mastering new ways to attract kids and addict them to nicotine, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Unless the state dedicates new funding to preventing and fighting nicotine addiction, the health of our state and the future of our kids will both suffer.”
He added, “Our elected officials must continue to make a difference in the lives of our people, helping them live longer and save money, both for themselves and taxpayers. The progress our state has made in reducing tobacco’s harm must continue.”