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Tobacco prevention, sustainable quit-smoking help fail to cross session finish line

May 22, Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a coalition of 60 partner organizations, expressed disappointment that bipartisan tobacco prevention and sustainable cessation efforts failed to make it across the finish line in the 2018 session. The coalition worked this session on two major policy priorities, which were to increase the tobacco age to 21 (Tobacco 21) and secure long-term funding for smoking cessation services when QUITPLAN Services ends.

"We are disappointed that legislative leaders failed to even hear the Tobacco 21 bill despite the House bill earning 24 co-authors from both parties," Molly Moilanen, Director of Public Affairs for ClearWay Minnesota and Co-Chair of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, said. "Among rising youth tobacco rates in Minnesota, Tobacco 21 would protect youth from nicotine addiction by reducing access to tobacco products. We are also disappointed that the Legislature sent the Governor a short-sighted smoking cessation proposal as part of the budget bill that he has pledged to veto."

Minnesota needs swift statewide action to invest in tobacco prevention and cessation as ClearWay Minnesota winds down. Minnesota is underfunding tobacco prevention programs, and may become the only state not providing statewide cessation services when QUITPLAN Services ends. ClearWay Minnesota was established as a life-limited organization and will end by 2022. QUITPLAN Services, which include effective, science-based programs that give Minnesota tobacco users free tools to quit, will end in early 2020. There are major funding streams that could be used to cover tobacco prevention and cessation services. In 2017 alone, the state collected more than $840 million in tobacco taxes and ongoing tobacco settlement payments, none of which was dedicated to cessation services.

The House and Senate finance chairs included tobacco cessation funding in their original budgets. Ultimately the Governor received an omnibus funding bill, which he has indicated he will veto, that funds quit-smoking services from an unsustainable source — the sun-setting provider tax.

When it comes to Tobacco 21, communities across the state have shown they will not wait for the Legislature to act. Since March, 2017, seven Minnesota cities have raised the tobacco age to 21, and several more cities are considering it. Passing Tobacco 21 statewide would reduce youth tobacco use and addiction, and there was significant progress this session toward a statewide bill.

"Despite coming up short, we are encouraged that many legislators from both sides of the aisle supported tobacco prevention and cessation this session," Moilanen added. "We are also grateful that this session provided opportunities for our coalition and supporters to educate lawmakers and the public about how we can reduce tobacco's harm. Tobacco use remains Minnesota's leading cause of preventable death and disease and we won't let up on our efforts. Make no mistake: we will be back next session to advocate for tobacco prevention and cessation policies that save lives and money."