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Big Tobacco Wins, Kids and Taxpayers Lose as Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty Proposes Eliminating Tobacco Prevention Endowment

Statement of William V. Corr, Executive Vice President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
February 20, 2003

Washington, D.C. — Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's budget proposal to eliminate the state's tobacco prevention endowment is shortsighted and will increase tobacco use among kids while placing a higher burden on the state's taxpayers. If this plan is enacted, the only winner will be the tobacco industry. Minnesota's commitment to tobacco prevention has already brought impressive results, saving 14,000 kids from taking up the habit and producing the first decline in youth smoking in over a decade. If Governor Pawlenty gets his way, thousands more of Minnesota's kids will become addicted to tobacco and die prematurely and Minnesota taxpayers will pay millions more to treat tobacco-caused disease. We urge the Legislature to reject this proposal and keep the state's endowment intact.

Governor Pawlenty's proposal would eliminate all of the endowments created by the state's 1999 law apportioning the tobacco settlement – one of the strongest tobacco control frameworks in the country. Minnesota currently ranks second in the nation in its funding of tobacco prevention and cessation. It is one of only four states that has kept the promise of the 1998 state tobacco settlement and funded tobacco prevention programs at the minimum level recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Under the Pawlenty proposal, Minnesota would cease to be a leader in protecting kids from tobacco. While Minnesota has tough choices to make to balance its budget, Governor Pawlenty's proposal goes well beyond any fair-shared sacrifice and singles out this one program for disproportionate cuts. This is a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision that ignores the evidence that tobacco prevention programs can help solve state budget woes by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. The best tobacco prevention programs are saving up to $3 in health care costs for every dollar spent.

To meet the CDC's funding recommendation for tobacco prevention, Minnesota only needs to spend 6.7 percent of the $439 million in tobacco revenue it is collecting this year from tobacco taxes and the tobacco settlement, leaving plenty for other purposes. It's only right that Minnesota continue to use its tobacco money to solve the tobacco problem. Increasing the state cigarette tax by $1.00 would be the most effective way to raise the revenue needed to fund tobacco prevention and meet other needs.

It is especially distressing that Governor Pawlenty's budget eliminates funding for the state's Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which tracks youth smoking rates in Minnesota. This is a strategy advocated by the tobacco industry. By wiping out the survey, he is trying to bury the evidence that his budget cuts are hurting the citizens of Minnesota. It is inconsistent for Governor Pawlenty to say he wants to focus his Administration on results while he tries to eliminate the very means of measuring the impact of his budget cuts. Apparently, he is afraid to have Minnesotans know the true impact of his actions.

Despite recent successes, tobacco's toll continues to mount in Minnesota, where 28.9 percent of high school students currently smoke and 13,100 more kids become regular smokers every year, one-third of whom will die prematurely. Smoking-caused health care costs Minnesota and its taxpayers $1.61 billion a year.