Of the many tax proposals currently under consideration by the Legislature, few enjoy support by a strong majority of Minnesotans, and few can have a significant health impact and save lives in our state.
A new poll released by the Raise It for Health coalition shows that not only do a majority of Minnesotans support raising the tobacco tax, but 66 percent support raising it by $1.50 per pack.
Who are these Minnesotans? They represent all walks of life – all ages, income levels and geographic areas of the state. They represent all political viewpoints, as well. Strong majorities of DFLers (68 percent), Republicans (65 percent) and Independents (62 percent) all indicate they support a $1.50 increase.
Raising the price of tobacco is a proven method of encouraging adult smokers to quit and keeping our kids from starting to smoke. Fifteen years after Minnesota’s historic tobacco settlement, tobacco companies continue to find clever and creative ways to prey on our youth and commit them to a lifetime of addiction. The only group that benefits from cheap tobacco is the tobacco industry.
Choose kids over industry interests
This session, legislators have the chance to choose kids over tobacco-industry interests by raising the price of tobacco. Raising the price of tobacco products by $1.50 per pack would prevent 47,700 youth from becoming addicted adults, help 36,600 current smokers quit and save 27,700 Minnesotans from premature death.
So far, Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders in both the House and Senate have taken significant strides toward achieving this goal. We commend them, and hope conferees will support the House proposal at $1.60 per pack versus the Senate’s position at 94 cents per pack. The poll shows Minnesotans support a large increase, and lawmakers should remember, the more cigarettes cost, the greater the benefits for the kids and adults of this state.
Tobacco remains a huge problem in our state: 16 percent of Minnesotans smoke and 77,000 youth will use tobacco this year. If those statistics are not wholly convincing that we need a significant tobacco tax increase, the fact that a solid majority of Minnesotans support this measure should tip the scales. Lawmakers should ask themselves, on what other issue could public agreement like this be found?
Make it significant
It is clear that Minnesotans see benefits from reducing the state’s smoking prevalence. The more than 30 health and nonprofit organizations who are part of the Raise It for Health coalition know all too well tobacco’s devastating effects. Now it is lawmakers’ turn to help create healthier communities and citizens by passing a significant tobacco tax increase this session.
Our legislators have an opportunity to be in step with Minnesotans by raising the price of tobacco and improving health for all of us.
David J. Willoughby, M.A., is the chief executive officer of ClearWay Minnesota.
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