September 30, 2010 - Tomorrow (September 30th) marks the third anniversary of the Freedom to Breathe Act,
Minnesota's strong smoke-free law. (On May 16, 2007, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty signed the Freedom to Breathe Act of 2007, a comprehensive statewide law that will provide protections from secondhand smoke to the vast majority of Minnesota workers. The new law went into effect on October 1, 2007. Clear Way Minnesota, Freedom to Breathe..)
Three years later, it's still very popular, with few complaints and fewer violations.
In fact, people sometimes tell me they barely remember a time when Minnesotans smoked in bars and restaurants. Some even ask, "Does anybody really smoke anymore?"
The sad truth is a lot of people still do, in Minnesota and across the country. In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new report that is a reality check. It found that national smoking rates, which for decades had seen steady declines, have now flatlined at about 20 percent. That's less than a single percentage point change since 2004 -- six years ago.
In Minnesota, our adult smoking rate is lower than the national average -- 17 percent. But the costs associated with tobacco use are still unacceptable: more than 5,500 deaths in our state each year, and nearly $2 billion spent on health care for patients with smoking-related diseases.
Why has the rate stopped declining? Two reasons. First, the tobacco industry has evolved for the times, coming up with clever new ways to market tobacco products; targeting kids and nonsmokers, and offering price discounts, "two-for-ones" and other incentives to keep existing tobacco users hooked.
Second, the stagnating smoking rates come at a time when states are losing focus on tobacco as a health issue and are funding tobacco prevention programs at lower levels. On the other hand, those states making strong commitments to prevention -- through higher cigarette prices, education and quitting help for smokers -- have some of the lowest smoking rates: Massachusetts (15 percent), Washington state (14.9 percent) and California (12.9 percent).
Reference: We'd better not rest easy on tobacco by DAVID J. WILLOUGHBY, StarTribune.com, 9/29/2010.