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Health panel considers bills shifting responsibility for anti-tobacco efforts to state agency

After decades of work preventing tobacco use and providing cessation services, the problem remains.

“We were so close to raising a generation free from tobacco addiction,” Rep. Kelly Morrison (DFL-Deephaven) told the House Health Finance and Policy Committee Monday.

But e-cigarettes created a new health crisis amongst young people, and smoking rates remain high in populations specifically targeted by the tobacco industry, including African American, Native American, and LGBTQ communities, she said.

Morrison sponsors HF569, which would appropriate $15 million a year in both fiscal years 2022 and 2023, from the General Fund to the Department of Health, for cessation and prevention activities, prioritizing efforts to prevent youth tobacco use and to promote racial and health equity.

It was laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.

A companion, SF684, is sponsored by Senate President Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) and awaits action by the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee.

For years, the “vast majority” of Minnesota’s tobacco prevention programs and cessation services have been provided by ClearWay Minnesota — an organization founded for that express purpose and funded by money from legal settlements paid by tobacco companies, Morrison said.

However, ClearWay is sunsetting at the end of the year and “passing the tobacco-prevention baton back to the state,” Morrison said. “We need to pick up that baton up and not drop it.”

Hers is one of a few different options for funding that will receive consideration this session.

A yet-to-be-introduced bill – also sponsored by Morrison – received an informational hearing in which testifiers explained that it would dedicate a portion of funds the state may recover from legal settlements with tobacco companies.

The funds would be held in a designated “tobacco use prevention” account and each year $15 million would be appropriated to the Department of Health for cessation and prevention activities.

These companies were subject to the 1998 settlement, but have not been paying their share of fees since 2015, said Molly Moilanen, director of public affairs at ClearWay Minnesota.

Supporters do not expect all of the proposals will be adopted, but wanted to provide options for the Legislature to consider, showing that there are multiple ways to address the issue and provide funding for prevention and treatment.

“There are different solutions to get at this problem,” Moilanen said.

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