Minnesota to spend more than $17 million to cut youth smoking
The state of Minnesota will spend $17.7 million by 2001 in an attempt to reduce youth smoking rates by 30 percent, officials announced Thursday at a public-health conference in Brainerd, Minn.
The money is the first installment from the $590 million antitobacco endowment created this year by the state Legislature. Eventually, interest income from the endowment fund will provide $30 million annually for tobacco-prevention and local public-health programs.
Underage cigarette use in Minnesota is increasing. Nearly 42 percent of the state's 12th-graders smoke, according to a 1998 survey. That's up from 31 percent in 1992. About 17,000 Minnesota children become daily smokers each year.
To help curb the problem, state officials said they want teenagers' help designing and implementing tobacco-prevention and reduction programs.
"What we've done in the past really doesn't resonate with kids," said Mary Sheehan, director of the tobacco-endowment implementation program at the Minnesota Health Department.
New research shows antitobacco messages that emphasize long-term health problems aren't effective at fighting peer pressure and other factors that can lead to youth smoking, Sheehan said.
Instead, youth seem to think twice about smoking when they are informed about the expensive marketing efforts used by the tobacco industry. "They really don't like the idea that they are the targets of industry manipulation," she said. They also respond when told that secondhand smoke can create health problems for their friends and family.
Sheehan said she hopes to get a group of teenagers to help design the campaigns that will be funded as part of the effort to reduce youth smoking by 30 percent by 2005.
"By putting kids in the process, we will have a better idea of what works and what doesn't work," she said.
A statewide tobacco-advisory group is deciding how to spend the endowment funds, which were made possible by the state's $6.1 billion settlement with the tobacco industry last year.
The state is scheduled to begin seeking contract bids next month, and the first contract is expected to be for a statewide public-information and education campaign.
About $3.4 million of the $17.7 million installment will go to local public-health agencies.
Joyce Mueller, a public-health nurse with the Crow Wing County Health Department, said the money is badly needed.
"There's not enough right now to do anything significant," said Mueller, who helps coordinate tobacco-control efforts for the county. She has a $10,000 budget to pay for administrative and program expenses.
She said she doesn't yet know how much money the county will receive, but she plans to use it for an intensive tobacco-education effort in the schools.
The state endowment is targeted at preventing youth smoking. State officials will work closely with the Minnesota Partners for Action Against Tobacco, a nonprofit organization that also was created as part of the tobacco settlement. The organization, which was awarded more than $200 million, also is drafting its spending priorities plan. It's expected to target adults, including groups such as the uninsured and minority communities.
In another effort to curb illegal sales of tobacco to minors, state officials Thursday announced a design change in Minnesota driver's licenses issued to those under 18. Starting Jan. 1, licenses will state when the holders turn 18, making it easier for store clerks to check ages for cigarette sales.