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Friday, May 7, 2010

Local view: Minnesota’s smoking laws need to be updated

By passing a comprehensive, smoke-free law, Minnesota took a giant step toward protecting residents from secondhand smoke in all workplaces and enclosed public spaces.
By: Dr. Mary J. Boylan, Duluth News Tribune

By passing a comprehensive, smoke-free law, Minnesota took a giant step toward protecting residents from secondhand smoke in all workplaces and enclosed public spaces.

But the tobacco industry has found new ways to grow its business and to put health at risk. The industry continues to thrive through clever marketing, by exploiting legal loopholes and by introducing new products. These tobacco products are particularly appealing to youth because they are very inexpensive and come in a variety of candy and fruit flavors and are widely available.

Minnesota laws need to keep pace with these new tobacco threats. Smokeless tobacco products such as Snus come in pouches that don’t require spitting. Camel has introduced a line of smokeless tobacco orbs, sticks and strips, which are finely milled tobacco and look like toothpicks, mints or breath strips. They dissolve in your mouth and are packaged to look like a container of breath mints or a small cell phone. These products are discreet, addictive and attract young customers.

This new line of tobacco products may look harmless, but it is not. Smokeless tobacco is linked to oral cancers, gum disease, addiction and heart disease. Even a single tobacco orb the size of a breath mint contains enough nicotine to sicken a small child. The strong product marketing has led to 13.4 percent of high school boys and

2.3 percent of high school girls using smokeless tobacco, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Unfortunately, state laws and regulations were crafted for a 20th-century industry and already are outdated and failing to protect young people from these 21st-century products. The scariest part is that current Minnesota law does not restrict kids from buying these sticks, strips or orbs.

Thankfully, the Tobacco Modernization and Compliance Act of 2010 has worked its way through the Minnesota Legislature and hopefully will be signed by the governor soon. Supported by leading Minnesota health organizations, this bill would expand the definition of tobacco products to cover any type of product made from tobacco and intended for human consumption. The bill also would require all tobacco products to be sold behind the counter, ensuring youth do not have easy access.

I strongly urge the governor to sign this critical legislation into law. It is a common-sense solution to the growing problem of new smokeless tobacco products. It will keep pace with the tobacco industry’s efforts to increase its profits at the expense of our children’s health. And it is the first step necessary to protect our kids from the harms of tobacco use.

Now is the time to act and continue to focus on the harmful nature of tobacco products. This is a public-health priority. The Tobacco Modernization and Compliance Act of 2010 will bring state laws into the 21st century.

Dr. Mary J. Boylan of St. Luke’s Cardiothoracic Surgery Associates in Duluth is a member of the Midwest Affiliate Board of the American Heart Association.

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