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Our view: Higher taxes on cigs are saving our youths

She had a hand in creating Duluth's and Minnesota's clean indoor air laws, she said. Betty Christensen of Duluth also taught smoking cessation in San Diego for 15 years.

She had a hand in creating Duluth’s and Minnesota’s clean indoor air laws, she said. Betty Christensen of Duluth also taught smoking cessation in San Diego for 15 years.
So she read with pointed interest an editorial in Wednesday’s News Tribune about a new study suggesting that Minnesota smokers in border cities like Duluth aren’t kicking the filthy habit in droves as expected because of huge tax hikes on tobacco, but that they’re rather crossing the border and buying their smokes - and doing other shopping, too, to the detriment of Minnesota businesses - in Wisconsin and in other neighboring states.
While she can “understand the difficulty for ‘addicted’ smokers to quit,” even in the face of higher cigarette prices due to tax hikes, what the editorial didn’t adequately address, Christensen said, was that, “Research shows (the) higher prices deter early smoking in youth.”
Indeed, and Big Tobacco has known that for a long time, though it never would admit as much. A 1982 RJ Reynolds internal memo, released to the public only because of lawsuits, is just one example. “If prices were
10 (percent) higher, (youth smoking) would be 11.9 (percent) lower,” the memo acknowledged. It has been touted by tobaccofreekids.org.
Minnesota’s tobacco tax increases were far higher than 10 percent. Approved by the 2013 Legislature, they included a 130 percent tax hike on cigarettes, and the 70 percent tax of the wholesale price on other tobacco products was increased to 95 percent.
That was supposed to be pricey enough to prevent an estimated 47,700 Minnesota kids from becoming addicted smokers as adults, according to information provided the News Tribune Opinion page Wednesday by Jill Doberstein of the American Lung Association in Duluth. Another 16 percent of young people were expected to quit smoking because it’s more expensive. Adult smokers were expected to quit, too. An estimated 36,600 of them were expected to refuse to pay the higher prices. In addition, more than 25,700 Minnesotans were expected to be saved from premature smoking-related deaths, and Minnesotans were expected to save more than $1.65 billion in long-term health care costs.
That’s all great. But the tobacco tax increases’ effects on Minnesota businesses hasn’t been so great. An estimated 1,100 jobs have been lost or eliminated, according to the study featured in Wednesday’s editorial. In St. Louis County, including Duluth, quarterly cigarette sales dropped 23 percent. At the same time, across the border in Douglas County, such sales jumped 58 percent, suggesting smokers aren’t quitting but hopping the border to buy cigs. And to buy other things: $38 million have been lost in sales of non-
tobacco products, the study said.
If there’s a tradeoff - and it appears there is: health or business - Christensen knows which side she embraces: “It’s still a critical health issue even though we’ve made a lot of progress in the last 40 years,” she said.
And so does Doberstein: “Raising the tobacco tax in 2013 was a win for the health of all Minnesotans,” she said. “Price increases are the single biggest influencing factor of people’s choice to smoke.”
What do you think? Join the conversation by submitting a letter to the editor to letters@duluthnews.com .

Related Topics: OUR VIEWHEALTH
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