By Raymond Boyle
Raymond Boyle is director of research programs with ClearWay Minnesota, an independent nonprofit organization working to reduce tobacco's harms in Minnesota.
We all know quitting smoking is a desirable goal for all smokers, and recent reports have highlighted some of the benefits of quitting. For example, a recent University of Minnesota study found that women who quit smoking add 10 years to their lives. Also, a Mayo Clinic study recently highlighted in Forbes and The New York Times revealed that smoke-free air laws lead to fewer heart attacks from secondhand smoke.
These studies provide us with important evidence to continue the momentum for strong tobacco control in Minnesota. Tobacco claims more than 5,000 Minnesota lives each year and adds to our escalating health care costs. But we do not need to accept such a high cost from tobacco.
Keeping our attention on tobacco-control measures such as price increases, smoke-free air laws, media campaigns, youth access laws and cessation treatment will help us reduce smoking in Minnesota and discourage youth from becoming a new generation of tobacco users.
We now have scientific confirmation that a comprehensive approach to tobacco control — all of these efforts working together — delivers the best results.
The Minnesota SimSmoke model published this month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine studied former and present smokers in Minnesota from 1993 to 2011 to determine the effect of tobacco-control efforts on smoking and deaths from smoking. We found:
Together, tobacco control programs have contributed to a 29 percent reduction in smoking rates in Minnesota over the past 18 years.
Smoke-free air laws, including the Freedom to Breathe Act, contributed to 20 percent of the total reduction.
Media campaigns contributed to 19 percent of the total reduction.
Cessation treatment contributed to 11 percent of the total reduction.
Youth access laws contributed to 7 percent of the total reduction.
The price of tobacco alone contributed to 43 percent of the total reduction.
On their own, policies play an important supportive role, but this research tells us that they are much stronger when implemented together — and that they can save more lives.
The SimSmoke model strongly suggests that the state's tobacco-control efforts are collectively saving lives — they have already prevented nearly 3,000 deaths from smoking since 1993. If Minnesota continues to support policies such as tobacco price increases and aggressive media campaigns, over the next 30 years fewer than one in 10 Minnesota adults will be smokers, and there will be 55,000 fewer deaths from smoking.
That is significant, especially when we attach individual faces — real Minnesotans — to those 55,000 saved lives. In order to achieve these results, we need to sharpen our focus. We need to acknowledge that tobacco's dangers are real and remain a public health concern in Minnesota and elsewhere. We also need to ensure that quitting programs are accessible to all tobacco users, and we need to keep tobacco beyond the reach of youth. Smoking cigarettes should become a rare behavior.
My hope is that powerful research such as the Minnesota SimSmoke model will renew Minnesotans' interest in supporting and strengthening tobacco policies. There is a serious opportunity to save more Minnesota lives as we approach the start of the 2013 state legislative session. One major take-away from this research is that increasing the price of tobacco has the largest individual policy impact on smoking prevalence. A tobacco-price increase is the logical next step to improve the health of all Minnesotans.