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!

Monday, May 11, 2009

AHA volunteer's letter published in the Winona Daily News!

One of our stellar advocacy volunteers and Twin Cities Board Member, Dr. Russell Luepker, just had a commentary piece published Friday in the Winona Daily News and on MinnPost, the online news source. Check it out!

Winona Daily News
Friday, May 8, 2009
Tobacco tax increase will save lives, save money [opinion]
By Drs. Bruce Peterson and Russell V. Luepker

It’s getting to crunch time at the Capitol, and the air is thick with talk of which, if any, taxes to increase. The American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association offered the bold Act for a Healthy Future plan to increase the state’s tobacco tax by $1 and to dedicate the funds to cancer and heart disease prevention, and ensuring Minnesotans have access to life-saving care. While many Minnesotans support the ideas in our plan, legislators did not fully embrace it.

Of course we’re disappointed that there were so many health benefits left on the table, but it’s still important for the governor and the Legislature to increase the state’s cigarette tax as proposed within the House tax bill.

Cancer and heart disease are Minnesota’s leading killers, taking thousands of Minnesotans every year. Many of these deaths and the billions of dollars spent treating these diseases are preventable. Increasing the state’s cigarette tax will save lives and save tobacco-related health care costs without increasing the budget deficit. That’s a healthy step forward for all Minnesotans.

Smoking is the single biggest cause of lung cancer and myriad heart diseases and conditions. About 5,500 Minneso-tans each year die because of smoking. The proposed 54-cent tobacco tax increase alone would help 9,700 Minnesota smokers quit, prevent 22,000 kids from starting and save 9,600 lives. A 75-cent increase mirroring the governor’s 2005 Health Impact Fee would save even more lives, 14,400, and prevent more than 33,000 kids from taking up smoking. While the Health Impact Fee helped drive smoking in Minnesota to historic lows, 630,000 adult Minneso-tans continue to smoke. There is clearly more work to be done.

Some will balk at tobacco tax increases saying we simply want to punish smokers, take away freedoms or live others’ lives. None are true.

Most smokers want to quit smoking, but can’t. Increasing the price of a pack of cigarettes is a scientifically-proven prevention strategy that helps price-sensitive smokers quit and prevents thousands of kids from ever starting. With the free services available to help Minnesotans quit smoking, every smoker who chooses will have the opportunity to succeed.

We all pay the price for smoking when we lose family members, co-workers, employees and neighbors to smoking-related cancers and heart diseases. Recent polls tell us Minnesotans overwhelmingly support raising the tobacco tax because they understand the human costs and how our state’s businesses, taxpayers and working families pay the price of smoking in public and private health care premiums driven higher treating diseases a higher tax could prevent. In all, private and public health care providers pay more than $2 billion a year treating tobacco-related disease. These costs are passed on to all of us as health care consumers and taxpayers.

Small businesses struggle under heavy health care burdens, and taxpayers’ dollars are better spent in ways other than treating diseases that can be prevented. Even with the proposed 54-cent increase in our state’s cigarette tax, the price of a pack of cigarettes would fall well short of the $8.85 that same pack costs taxpayers and businesses in smoking-related health care spending. Over the long term, a 54-cent price increase would save $480 million in health care costs, and a larger increase would save more lives and more money.

Although times are tough, we cannot afford to keep our heads in the health care sand, arguing that behaviors like smoking don’t have human and economic consequences. It’s time to be forward-looking and fair to all Minnesotans. Raising any tax is an understandably tough choice for legislators and the governor, but raising the tobacco tax is the right choice for Minnesotans. By making this choice, our leaders at the Capitol can take an important step forward to help ensure the long-term physical and fiscal health of our state.

Bruce Peterson, M.D., is an oncologist and chairman-elect of the American Cancer Society Midwest Division Board of Director. Dr. Luepker is a cardiologist, a member of the American Heart Association’s Minnesota Board of Directors and a Mayo professor in the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.

Winona Daily News
MinnPost, the online news source

No comments: