Minnesota has maintained its moxy in the ongoing bid to reverse youth nicotine addiction and to hold Big Tobacco accountable for “aggressive, predatory behavior.”
Those were the words of Janelle Waldock, senior director of policy for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and co-chair of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, in a statement late last week praising the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. A state lawsuit against Big Tobacco, accusing it of illegally marketing to youngsters, had just been expanded to include Altria and four of its subsidiaries. Two Decembers ago, Altria bought a 35% stake in JUUL, the e-cigarette brand concerningly so popular amongst college, high school, and even middle school students.
How popular? “In 2019, 26 percent of Minnesota 11th-graders and 11 percent of 8th-graders said they vaped in the past month,” as Waldock said in the statement. “Minnesota needs to take urgent action to protect youth from lifelong tobacco addiction — and this lawsuit is an important part of that.”
Minnesota has long been a leader in the decades-long crusade to curb cancer-causing nicotine use. In 2007, the state expanded its Clean Indoor Air Act, and smoking is now prohibited pretty much everywhere the public can go, inside and outside, including worksites, schools, restaurants, bars, parks, and bowling alleys. Penalties are enforced in Minnesota, too, with no local opt-outs allowed. Recognizing that the more expensive tobacco products are the less likely they are to be purchased, especially among young people, Minnesota aggressively enacted the nation’s eighth-highest state cigarette tax at $3.04 per pack. And, on Aug. 1, the legal age to buy tobacco products was raised to 21 in the Gopher State.
Last session, the Minnesota Legislature took on flavored tobacco, which, like vaping, has proven popular among young people after being marketed to them by a tobacco industry eager to get them hooked early and for life.
This coming year in St. Paul, lawmakers will be urged to pass “bold policies to stem youth tobacco addiction, including clearing the market of menthol and all flavored tobacco products and investing in youth prevention,” said Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a coalition of more than 60 organizations.
With leadership in St. Paul, our state must maintain its momentum in countering youth-focused marketing and other health-harming tricks and strategies employed by Big Tobacco. Minnesota can continue to lead, urging and allowing other states to also take action — just as the Minnesota attorney general’s office did last week.