Fewer people smoking cigarettes in Minnesota

The rate of smoking in Minnesota continues to decline, according to a new survey.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

(AP) - More Minnesota smokers are kicking the habit, crumpling their cigarette packs at a faster rate than their peers around the country.

A statewide telephone survey released on Wednesday put the state's adult smoking rate at a new low of 17 percent, compared with about 20 percent nationally.

Smoking has fallen steadily in Minnesota since the late 1990s, with 164,000 fewer adults smoking last year than in 1999.

The latest Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey was done before a statewide ban drove smokers out of bars, restaurants and other workplaces last October.

"It's disappearing from our public spaces, and becoming less ingrained in our culture."

But other policies -- including local smoking bans that covered almost two of every five state residents at the time of the survey and a 75-cent-per-pack cigarette fee imposed in 2005 -- contributed to the declining rate of smoking, the report's authors said.

"It's disappearing from our public spaces, and becoming less ingrained in our culture," said Dr. Barbara Schillo, research director at ClearWay Minnesota, an anti-smoking group funded by the state's settlement with the tobacco industry.

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Formerly known as the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco, the group was criticized earlier this decade for its aggressive support of smoking bans.

ClearWay Minnesota, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and the state Health Department commissioned the poll of 12,000 adults, which had a margin of sampling error of 1.4 percent and higher margins for subgroups. It was the third such survey since 1999.

Fewer smokers could have fallout on the state budget as the take from tobacco taxes declines. But those taxes make up a small part of a much larger budget, and lawmakers have considered raising tobacco taxes to pay for health care proposals.

Other findings:

-Smokers are most likely to be younger, blue-collar men. Anti-smoking advocates aim to create public service messages that will hit home with lower-income smokers and young adults who don't go to college.

-Young adults are the biggest smokers among the age groups. But their rate of smoking is on the downswing - from nearly 37 percent in 2003 to slightly more than 28 percent last year.

-A majority of smokers want to quit, with nearly three in five trying to stop in the past year. More than two in five smokers said higher cigarette prices prompted them to think about quitting. More price increases could be on the table if advocates have their way.

-More than four of every five Minnesotans don't allow smokers to light up in their homes - including half of all smokers.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)