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Editorial - Tobacco law provides breath of fresh air

Some make the argument that the government passes too many laws that burden our personal freedoms.

It's a valid point. The ultimate intent of any new legislation should be weighed against any freedoms that are at stake.

This Sunday a new state law will take effect that promises to do a lot more good than harm by protecting young people against dangerous tobacco products.

The Tobacco Modernization and Compliance Act was passed by the 2010 Legislature and signed into law by Governor Pawlenty. It applies existing state tobacco taxes and regulations to new smokeless tobacco products that attract young customers because they are low-cost.

Specifically, the new law:

•Expands the definition of tobacco products to include any product that contains tobacco and is intended for human consumption.

•Requires all tobacco products and tobacco-related devices to be sold behind the counter so they are not easily accessible to youth.

•Prevents the sale of new tobacco products and e-cigarettes to youth.

Tobacco companies are still a hugely powerful industry, one of the most lucrative in the world. It spends $12.8 billion a year to market its products nationwide and nearly $200 million was spent in Minnesota alone.

They've changed tactics over the years to make products that are aimed at a younger market: Little cigars that look, feel and smoke like cigarettes but feature candy flavors like grape, strawberry and peach; sticks, orbs and strips that look like mints or breath-freshening products, only they're made of finely milled tobacco; and snus, which are small lightweight pouches filled with tobacco and marketed as "pleasure for whenever."

The consequences of tobacco use are deadly: 634,000 Minnesotans still smoke and the state loses 5,500 lives and $2 billion in health care costs annually because of tobacco-related illnesses.

Despite some progress, smoking is still a hard habit to kick. The statistics for young people are especially troubling: 28.4 percent of those between the ages of 18 to 24 are tobacco users and smokeless tobacco-use rates among youth are up nationwide. About 85,000 middle and high school students in the state smoke.

The new law is a commonsense solution to a preventable health problem that continues to drive up healthcare costs and take countless lives every day.

As pointed out by Minnesota Assistant Commissioner of Health Patricia Adams, "Tobacco use continues to be the leading preventable cause of death in this country. While cigarette smoking among Minnesota youth has declined since 2000, there has been no change in the percentage of students smoking cigars or little cigars or using smokeless tobacco. This new law will help young people avoid the harmful effects of tobacco by decreasing their access to today's new generation of tobacco products."

Adams added that the new law complements work being done through the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) to prevent tobacco use. SHIP was established in 2008 as part of the state's health reform law.

Communities across the state, including right here in Douglas County, are using SHIP grants to reduce chronic disease by decreasing the number of Minnesotans who use or are exposed to tobacco or who are obese or overweight.

"SHIP takes a new approach toward prevention by focusing on creating sustainable, systemic changes that make it easier for individuals to make healthy choices in their daily lives," Adams said. "The new Tobacco Modernization and Compliance Act is an example of the kind of systemic change that can lead to improved health across the state."

Echo Press editorials are the position of the newspaper's editorial board, which includes Jody Hanson, publisher; Al Edenloff, editor; and news reporter Celeste Beam.