(Alexandria, MN) ClearWay Minnesota is hoping this legislative session will help them make the laws clear in the state with regard to tobacco sales. They are not only very involved with promoting policy that will make tobacco sales to anyone under the age of 21 illegal according to federal law, they are blanketing the state to make cities and counties aware of the need for similar legislation at the state, county and city levels. Already T21 (Tobacco 21) is the law of the land, but it came unceremoniously, without any real means to enforce it, on a state level. Clearway MN public affairs manager Laura Smith says that Federal enforcement is basically nonexistent, leaving that task up to state and local officials. She says if T21 is passed at a state and local level, state and local authorities will be able to enforce it better.
The 2019 Minnesota Student Survey found that one in four 11th graders reported using an e-cigarette in the past month. Eleven percent of Minnesota 8th graders said they use e-cigarettes regularly, which is nearly double the 2016 rate.
Over the last 20 years in Minnesota, ClearWay's work has resulted in smoking declines and the saving of lives and money by Minnesotans making their homes smoke-free. They also feel that they have been instrumental in creating a healthier state through their efforts. The last few years have really focused on this vaping/e-cigarette epidemic.
In West Central Minnesota, Horizon Public Health has worked to make changes locally. There is growing momentum for T21 across the state (As of Fiscal Year 2019 55 cities and counties in Minnesota have passed Tobacco 21 laws). This is happening amid the first increase in youth tobacco use in Minnesota in 17 years – due in large part to the epidemic of e-cigarette use. In December 2018 Pope County increased the age for tobacco sales and has been designated a Tobacco 21 county. A few years ago Pope and Stevens Counties, along with the city of Alexandria, have all adopted clear indoor air laws that extend to e-cigarettes.
Time is running out on the funds that drive ClearWay Minnesota. As an independent nonprofit organization that works to improve the health of Minnesotans by reducing the harms caused by tobacco, ClearWay MN is funded by 3 percent ($202 million) of the Minnesota 1998 tobacco settlement. It's because of that inevitable end to their funding source that they are amping up their efforts now.
The Minnesota State Capitol is active with legislation that may play a part in the success of the organization's efforts. Clearway Senior Communications Manager Adam Kintopf says ClearWay MN is the major source of funding for tobacco prevention work in the state. He adds that they were founded as a life-limited organization and will therefore go out of business in 2022 and unless some other funding entity comes forward, their efforts will fade off at this crucial time.
In a discussion with KXRA News Director Joe Korkowski, ClearWay Minnesota's public affairs manager Laura Smith and Senior Communications Manager Adam Kintopf, as well as Horizon Public Health's Community Health Strategist Amy Reineke and volunteer with Healthy Voices/Healthy Choices Sue Lukes talked about the state and local efforts regarding legislation and prevention (AUDIO BELOW):