We all deserve to live long, healthy lives that are free from preventable diseases and addiction. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the significant gaps in our state’s health care access, particularly when it comes to mental health and addiction services.

As a pediatrician at St. Luke’s and as medical director of Wilderness Health, I am working to build partnerships to ensure every Minnesota resident can access health services so they can live healthy lives that are free from addiction and mental illness.

Thankfully, there are simple investments that can make a huge difference in filling some of these gaps and improving health — especially when it comes to tobacco addiction. I enthusiastically support new investments in Minnesota’s tobacco-prevention and -treatment programs, which combat one of our state’s leading causes of preventable death and disease.

Right now, every Minnesotan can access free help to quit smoking, vaping, or chewing tobacco by calling 1-800-QUIT NOW or by visiting QuitPartnerMN.com. Our quit-tobacco programs are a great resource, and we can make an even greater difference by investing in community-based partnerships and stopping youth addiction before it even starts.

Prevention is so critical. We need to protect our children’s health. The latest state data found that one in five Minnesota high schoolers is using e-cigarettes and seven in 10 youth vapers are showing signs of dependence. The high levels of nicotine in today’s e-cigarettes can harm the developing brain and put our kids on a path to lifetime addiction. As someone committed to disease prevention and building health, these facts terrify me.

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Nicotine is an incredibly difficult addiction to break, and it can be even harder for people experiencing mental illness. Thankfully, we know that access to services including counseling and medication can double the chances of success.

Contrary to popular belief, quitting smoking actually improves mental health and lowers anxiety, depression, and stress.

As a community and a state, let’s do more to support the health and well-being of our kids and those harmed by commercial tobacco. If we invest just two or three cents of every dollar of tobacco revenue, we can reduce addiction, improve health, and save lives. And when fewer people smoke, we all save money.

There are several proposals to make these investments in tobacco prevention and treatment being considered at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul this legislative session. I encourage all our lawmakers to support these proposals in 2021.

Dr. Gretchen Karstens is a pediatrician at St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth and the medical director for Wilderness Health (wildernesshealthmn.org), a collaborative of independent health care providers in the Northland.