Throughout the year, our blog will feature AHA volunteer stories of survival and hope. We know there are thousands of stories like these - thats why we want to say “Thanks” to all of you for giving your time and sharing your lives with us. You can’t spell CURE without U! Thank you for all you do to build healthier lives free of cardiovascular disease and stroke. YOU’RE THE CURE!

Friday, April 10, 2009

AHA volunteer's letter published in Rochester Post Bulletin!

Higher tobacco tax is win-win
Rochester Post Bulletin
Sat, Apr 4, 2009
By Kathy Zarling

As a cardiovascular nurse who cares for individuals with heart disease, I witness firsthand how tobacco wreaks havoc on people's lives every day. Usually, by the time I see a patient, a lot of damage has been done. It's devastating both to the patient and to the families who watch their loved one suffer.

Each year, 5,500 Minnesotans die from tobacco-related diseases like heart disease and stroke. What's so tragic about these deaths is that these diseases are largely preventable. And, one of the best ways to prevent them is to avoid tobacco use.

This week, Rep. Erin Murphy, DLF-St. Paul, introduced the Act for a Healthy Future at the Minnesota Legislature. This act would reduce tobacco use in Minnesota by making cigarettes more expensive and less accessible to young people, thus deterring them from taking up the deadly habit in the first place.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the increase would prevent 44,300 kids from becoming addicted smokers. It would also help 19,500 adult smokers in Minnesota quit.
Equally as important, this act would raise funds for both the health care access and disease prevention that is desperately needed in this state. The act proposes a $1 increase to the tobacco tax, which would raise approximately $91 million per year.

This $91 million will save lives through investing in five important programs:
• The Health Care Access Fund
• The Statewide Health Improvement Program
• The Colon Cancer Screening Demonstration Project
• The Women's Heart Health Promotion Act
• The Minnesota Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Plan.

Here's how the money would be divided:
More than half of the funds raised each year for Minnesota's Health Care Access Fund would be used to continue the health care coverage of 28,000 uninsured Minnesotans. These families would lose their coverage under Gov. Pawlenty's proposed budget plan.

Nearly a quarter of these funds would go to the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) and would be used to provide local community grants to implement strategies for reducing obesity and tobacco use.

A total of $750,000 each year would go to the Women's Heart Health Promotion Act to pay for heart disease risk screenings for approximately 15,000 low-income uninsured women across the state. Providing screenings to this high-risk population could help reduce the $405 million in estimated health care costs if left untreated.

A total of $250,000 would be used to implement the Minnesota Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Plan. Implementing the state plan will improve cardiovascular health and reduce the burden of heart disease and stroke, which amounts to $2.1 billion in hospital costs annually.

A total of $2 million each year would fund a Colon Cancer Screening Demonstration Project that would provide free colon cancer screenings to low-income Minnesotans who are uninsured.

This Act for a Healthy Future proposes wise investments in Minnesota's future. Considering that smoking costs each and every taxpayer of this state $8.85 per pack in higher health care costs, regardless of if they themselves are smokers, I think an increase to the cost of cigarettes is a fair measure.

With this act in place, Minnesota's future will look brighter. Fewer Minnesotans will be smoking, more will have access to health care and prevention programs, and our citizens will be leading healthier and longer lives. It's a win-win all around!

Kathy Zarling of Rochester is a volunteer for the American Heart Association.

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