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The movement to raise the tobacco tax was always about health

To respond to the August 15 letter that asked, “Can we stop steamrolling stadium politics for a moment and talk about this?” The answer is yes. Because raising the price of tobacco is not about a stadium, it’s about saving lives.

Price is a powerful factor in whether people smoke. The $1.60 per pack tax increase on cigarettes will keep more than 47,000 Minnesota kids from a lifetime of addiction. And it has already motivated many adult smokers to try to quit. QUITPLAN Services, free smoking cessation programs available to all Minnesotans, saw a more than 250 percent increase in calls in the first half of July.

The movement to raise the tobacco tax was always about health, it is supported by a majority of Minnesotans, and its success means a healthier future for all of us.

Molly Moilanen is Co-Chair of the Raise it for Health Coalition and Director of Public Affairs, ClearWay Minnesota.

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Gregory Stricherz on 08/28/2013 - 08:49 am.

    What are you smoking, Molly?

    Right! And the first attempt to raise the taxpayers share of the stadium cost was electronic pulltabs. And the intent there was to curb gambling.

  2. Submitted by Shawn Bakken on 08/28/2013 - 08:28 pm.

    What kind of logic are you using, Gregory?

    Those two scenarios aren’t the least bit comparable.

    Assume that gambling is an addiction similar to nicotine. Creating the electronic pulltabs didn’t have a major affect on the cost of gambling and made fueling the addiction more accessible. Increasing the cost of cigarettes by $1.60 per pack will have a strong financial impact, making smokers more likely to curb their use or quit entirely.

    Additional methods of gambling = enabling.
    Increased cost of smoking = deterrent.

    Regardless of how effectively it might fund the stadium, I’d prefer the addiction deterrent any day.

  3. Submitted by Gregory Stricherz on 08/29/2013 - 08:03 am.

    Logical logic

    The tax on cigarettes was no more an attempt to curb smoking than the use of electronic pulltabs was an attempt to curb gambling. Both are simply an attempt to funnel money from unfortunates with bad habits to fund the Vikings’ new stadium.

    Is that clear enough? Get it?

  4. Submitted by Shawn Bakken on 08/29/2013 - 05:40 pm.

    “Price is a powerful factor in whether people smoke.”

    Perhaps you didn’t read the second paragraph of the letter; perhaps you disregarded it. Either way, I’m copying and pasting it here because it’s kind of important:

    “Price is a powerful factor in whether people smoke. The $1.60 per pack tax increase on cigarettes will keep more than 47,000 Minnesota kids from a lifetime of addiction. And it has already motivated many adult smokers to try to quit. QUITPLAN Services, free smoking cessation programs available to all Minnesotans, saw a more than 250 percent increase in calls in the first half of July.”

    You’re right about electronic pulltabs. Regardless of what politicians might say, they have minimal, if any, preventative effect on gambling. Conversely, the cigarette tax will keep kids from smoking. The cigarette tax led to an increase of over 250% in calls in just half a month from people who want to quit smoking. The cigarette tax means a reduction in “unfortunates with bad habits.”

    Lose enough unfortunates due to the prohibitive cost and you completely negate any proceeds from the cigarette tax, making the only benefit an increase in the overall health of Minnesotans.

    Sorry, I’m not buying your “logical logic.”

    • Submitted by Gregory Stricherz on 08/30/2013 - 09:18 am.

      You’re missing my point

      Shawn, you seem to be ignoring what I’m saying. I do not doubt that the huge increase in the price of cigarettes will cause people to quit. I think that is great. (I’m an ex-smoker myself.) My point is that improved health was NOT THE INTENT of the legislation.

      You say “Lose enough unfortunates due to the prohibitive cost and you completely negate any proceeds from the cigarette tax, making the only benefit an increase in the overall health of Minnesotans.” And THEN how do you anticipate the legislature will fund the Vikings’ stadium? Back to pulltabs? A heavy tax on unhealthful foods? Another bump in the general sales tax?

      Say what you want. The legislature passed this added tax on cigarettes solely for the benefit of the Vikings.

  5. Submitted by Shawn Bakken on 08/30/2013 - 12:09 am.

    Not clear enough, don’t get it

    The electronic pulltabs essentially made gambling more accessible. The cigarette tax will deter people from smoking by making it more expensive.

    According to the statistics in this letter, the higher price of cigarettes will cause fewer kids to start smoking and it’s already causing people to stop. If that trend continues–fewer start and more stop–cigarette sales will decrease and could eventually reach the point of negating any proceeds the state receives from tax hike.

    The only guaranteed benefit the tax will have? A decrease in smoking will lead to an overall improvement in people’s health, including many of those unfortunates with bad habits who have started calling QUITPLAN, etc.

  6. Submitted by Adam Miller on 09/02/2013 - 10:39 am.

    They have a funny way of showing it

    Since none of the ongoing revenue raised by the tax is going to the stadium.

    The only amount going to the stadium fund is the one time floor tax on existing inventories, which I think was projected at around $32 mil and came in a bit less than that. Going forward the increase is projected to raise something like ten times that per year, all going to the general fund.

  7. Submitted by Jim Peterson on 09/02/2013 - 01:59 pm.

    Speaking of Health Statistics

    2012 Minnesota statistics show:

    18.8 percent of the population are smokers — a number that has been decreasing for years.

    25.7 percent are obese — and that number is rapidly rising, especially among children.

    For several years obesity has been a larger cause of health problems and related costs than smoking.

    Where are the taxes and penalties that are intended to convince people to stop stuffing their faces?

    Using the same logic that produces anti-tobacco legislation and targeted taxation, why are there no excess taxes on fa[s]t food joints? Why are there no restrictions on high calorie slob food sales to minors? Why are there no mandatory warning labels on fat inducing pastries and candy and greasy burgers and sugar laden cereals and syrupy soft drinks and all the rest? Where is the public outrage over food addiction and abuse?

    Yes, it’s true everyone has to eat and nobody has to smoke, but nobody has to become morbidly overweight either, and if the above statistics apply, some of the finger pointing commenters here as this is being posted are obese. Can we admit the hypocrisy?

    • Submitted by Chris Farmer-Lies on 09/06/2013 - 12:02 pm.

      Disclaimer: I also work in tobacco policy, though not at Clearway.

      The “hypocrisy” argument is as nonsensical as it is trite. The presence of one (or two or three or a million) critical public health challenges does not absolve us of the responsibility of addressing any single issue. This isn’t an issue of obesity, it’s about tobacco, a separate realm of public health. The public health response to the challenge of obesity is a much more recent invention than that of tobacco, the negative health impacts of which have been very well known for decades.

      We have curbed tobacco use through taxation, offering cessation resources, education, lawsuits, youth access regulations, and many other tools and strategies. The folks working on obesity have a much steeper hill to climb with fewer resources, less research, and little sympathy from policymakers and the general public. Just as the increase in obesity is a fairly recent one, so is our response to it.

      You claim (without a source) that obesity causes more health problems than smoking. Notwithstanding the fact that smoking is still the primary cause of preventable death, it isn’t a race. Both obesity and smoking have negative health outcomes, both cost a lot of money and wreak heartache, and both are in need of further research and possible regulation. Both tobacco and food are backed by enormously powerful and influential forces, and – if I were to speculate – in the next few years we’ll look upon the food industry as unfavorably as we do the tobacco industry. The fact that nobody “has” to smoke, or “has” to overeat is a gross oversimplification of the fact that both of these industries have spent a great deal of time and money targeting the very same populations that are most at risk for both tobacco use and obesity.

  8. Submitted by Jim Peterson on 09/09/2013 - 08:27 am.

    Official Discrimination

    >”The “hypocrisy” argument is as nonsensical as it is trite.”
    So, the tobacco policy guy is feeling a little pouty?
    Nothing I said sprinkled any rain on your parade.

    >”This isn’t an issue of obesity, it’s about tobacco,”

    No, it’s about the arbitrary and discriminatory assignment of tax and regulatory punishments to one group of citizens with near total disregard of a larger, rapidly expanding segment of the population which represents a major health risk now and a far greater one into the future.

    I did not propose anything to steal your thunder as an anti-tobacco activist, in fact, you are to be complimented for your efforts. I only asked why obesity gets a get out of jail free card, and where the policy activists are who can see the problem objectively and parcel out the blame with at least some effort at equivalence. Otherwise the continuing official unilateral discrimination reeks with unfair prejudice.
    Hypocrisy IS hypocrisy.

    • Submitted by Chris Farmer-Lies on 09/10/2013 - 10:09 am.

      I explained why obesity and tobacco are different issues, and outlined the state of what is being done to address obesity. It’s not my problem that you didn’t read my helpful comment.

    • Submitted by Chris Farmer-Lies on 09/12/2013 - 07:45 pm.

      I have a few more minutes to elaborate now. You say the state isn’t doing anything to combat obesity. This is false. The Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) funds local public health and nonprofits to address alcohol, tobacco, other drugs, promote early childhood nutrition and physical activity, healthy eating, physical activity, reducing screen time, and workplace health initiatives.

      There may be (and likely are) other state-funded initiatives to mitigate the harmful outcomes of obesity, but SHIP (which is entering its third cycle of funding) has been extremely effective in addressing obesity. (Commissioner Ehlinger credited SHIP for reducing obesity among low-income preschoolers) http://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2013/08/minnesota-shows-decline-low-income-preschoolers-obesity-rate

      The claim that obesity has a “get out of jail free card” is frankly bizarre, since the existence of SHIP directly contradicts your claim. I must point out again that tobacco and obesity completely different issues that are addressed by different people using different tools. As a public health professional working in tobacco, I have absolutely zero expertise in food policy, just like I don’t really know anything about drug abuse or epidemiology. From more than fifty years of public health policy work in tobacco control, we know that tax increases are one of the tools we have that can reduce the smoking rate – the data is there. It’s not there for food. I realize that the hypocrisy argument is an easy one, but it’s just not going to pick up steam, man.

      As to your second point, smokers aren’t a protected class. There’s nothing in the constitution or in Minnesota law that categorizes them as such. It is not discriminatory to increase taxes on tobacco.

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