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Our View: Smelling better a smoker at a time

Years ago when he first started smoking Robert Sullivan of Duluth made himself a promise. "If I ever have to pay more than $5 a pack for cigarettes, I'll quit," he vowed. The price of cigs, including tax, long ago soared past $5 a pack. So Sulliv...

Years ago when he first started smoking Robert Sullivan of Duluth made himself a promise.

"If I ever have to pay more than $5 a pack for cigarettes, I'll quit," he vowed.

The price of cigs, including tax, long ago soared past $5 a pack. So Sullivan renegotiated. Then he renegotiated again when the government kept heaping tax on tobacco and smokes blew by $6 a pack.

This week Sullivan had enough. The price of cigarettes jumped to about $7.50 a pack after a state tobacco tax increase of $1.60 per pack kicked in. The Legislature this session increased the state tobacco tax by 76 percent to $2.83 per pack. And that was just too rich for Sullivan, who works in construction, as a mechanic and as a "jack-of-all-trades," he said. He quit smoking.

"I just kind of refuse to pay that much," he told the News Tribune Opinion page this week after smoking the last of a pack he bought before the tax hike took effect on Monday. "It's just too expensive to keep up the habit. And you know, I have a wife and three little ones. Every time I bought a pack of cigarettes that was money I could have spent for them. That's what I'll do now."

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That's what a lot of smokers can do; they can refuse to pay the exorbitant price per pack and become former smokers, leaving themselves, their families, everyone around them and all of Minnesota clearer, better smelling and healthier. And a little wealthier.

A lot of smokers will do just that, too, according to the smoking-cessation experts at ClearWay Minnesota. For every penny the price of cigs goes up, another 244 Minnesotans decide it's too much and quit smoking, ClearWay and its scientific studies determined. In addition, every penny increase prevents 318 more kids from becoming addicted adult smokers. So the Legislature's $1.60 tobacco tax increase will mean nearly 90,000 fewer smokers in the Gopher State.

Talk about a tax worth cheering.

And that'd be true whether smoking cessation was even what lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton had in mind when upping the tax. The motive was oft-mentioned, but at the same time the state is banking on increased tax revenue as a result of the tobacco tax hike.

No matter what the motivation, if this latest, hefty state tax increase on tobacco leads to fewer smokers, as promised, it'll continue a welcome trend. An estimated 22 percent of Minnesotans were smokers in 1999. Only 16 percent are smokers now.

"A 16 percent reduction in the number of smokers in Minnesota is great progress from where we were 10 years ago," ClearWay Vice President Andrea Mowery told the News Tribune Opinion page in March. "We've seen a lot of great movement in attitudes and opinions. People in high percentages are aware of the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke.

"But 600,000 Minnesotans are still smoking," she said. "And 5,000 Minnesotans are still dying every year from tobacco-related illnesses.

So let's keep moving forward."

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Sullivan and his family took a step forward this week. More Minnesota smokers can follow suit.

"I guess thank you to the cigarette tax," said Sullivan's wife, Ashley, who's already a former smoker. "Now he'll smell just as good as I do."

And as good as more of Minnesota can as more of us snuff the habit.

Related Topics: HEALTHOUR VIEW
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