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Editorial: Law working, smokers quitting

Medical researchers long have said the most effective way to get smokers to kick the filthy, unhealthy, dangerous habit is by jacking up the price of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Add Minnesota to the mounting evidence suggesting researchers are right.

The price of cigarettes in the Gopher State skyrocketed to about $7.50 a pack this month after a 76 percent tax increase approved by this year’s Legislature went into effect. That’s proving too rich for a growing number of smokers, apparently. During the new tax’s first two weeks, 900 smokers called a hot line for help with quitting, an increase of 256 percent compared to the same two weeks a year ago. In addition, the website, run by the smoking-cessation nonprofit ClearWay Minnesota, experienced a 289 percent increase in traffic during those same two weeks.

ClearWay has found that for every penny the price of cigs goes up, another 244 Minnesotans decide it’s too much and tamp their butts for good. In addition, every penny increase prevents 318 more kids from becoming addicted adult smokers. So the Legislature’s $1.60 tobacco tax increase promises nearly 90,000 fewer Minnesota smokers. The forecast appears well on its way to reality.

So talk about a tax worth cheering. And that’d be true whether or not smoking cessation was even what lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton had in mind when upping the tax. The motive was oft-mentioned, but at the same time the state banked on the expected resulting increased tax revenue.

No matter what the motivation behind it, if this latest, hefty state tax increase on tobacco leads to fewer smokers, as it appears to be doing, it’ll continue a welcome trend. An estimated 22 percent of Minnesotans were smokers in 1999. Only 16 percent are smokers now.

That’s a percentage that can continue to tumble, clearing the air and improving health not only for former smokers but also for everyone around them.

— Duluth News Tribune