News release: Health officials, community organizations and concerned citizens speak out against tobacco marketing to youth as part of World No Tobacco Day, Thursday, May 31

News Release
May 30, 2012
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Health officials, community organizations and concerned citizens speak out against tobacco marketing to youth as part of World No Tobacco Day, Thursday, May 31

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) in coordination with the American Cancer Society, ClearWay Minnesota, Association for Nonsmokers Minnesota (ANSR), the American Lung Association in Minnesota, and the Minnesota Medical Association are speaking out against tobacco marketing to youth in observance of World No Tobacco Day.

"Tobacco is the number one cause of preventable death in our nation. We must continue our state’s efforts to keep tobacco out of our kids’ hands and help those already addicted to quit," said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger.

This day is observed around the world every year on May 31, and encourages people to abstain from tobacco for 24 hours and draws attention to the fact that tobacco currently leads to 5.4 million deaths a year worldwide.

In Minnesota, some 625,000 Minnesotans still smoke, and about 5,135 Minnesotans lose their lives to tobacco products each year.

"We strongly support World No Tobacco Day 2012," said Lyle Swenson, M.D., president of the Minnesota Medical Association, the state's leading advocacy group for physicians. "The MMA supports activities that discourage tobacco use, especially efforts that discourage young people from using tobacco."

This year’s day is also highlighting tobacco company marketing techniques, which are constantly changing and adjusting to regulations. Despite the perception that tobacco marketing has decreased, tobacco companies’ spending on marketing increased by 52 percent to $9.9 billion from 1998 to 2008, according to the Federal Trade Commission Cigarette Report.

Tobacco companies spent $200 million on marketing efforts in Minnesota in 2009, according to "Unfiltered: A Revealing Look at Today’s Tobacco Industry," from Clearway Minnesota. Many of these marketing efforts reach children, populations of color, American Indians, and low-income communities. Tobacco companies use coupons and point-of-sale marketing techniques, such as signs and in-store promotions to encourage tobacco use.

"Disproportionate tobacco use among certain groups is a huge contributor to the unequal health outcomes we see across Minnesota," said Ehlinger. "Smoking is highest among lower socioeconomic status youth, and the American Indian community is also heavily affected."

Young people from low-income families are roughly twice as likely to smoke cigarettes as those who are not low-income (ninth grade students), according to the 2010 Minnesota Student Survey. Among ninth graders, smoking rates and overall tobacco use rates are highest among American Indian, Hispanic and African-American youth, and lowest among Asian youth.

To address the problem of point-of-sale promotions, St. Paul passed an ordinance limiting the amount of store window space that can be covered by temporary signs. This ordinance was passed after the Ramsey Tobacco Coalition pulled together inner city youth groups and public safety, public health and scenic beauty advocates to advance an ordinance that would dramatically reduce the amount of window advertising for unhealthy products.

"The tobacco industry has been fighting to get into our community and we're fighting back. These kids are on fire and are committed to exposing the tobacco industry for the killer it is. Through grassroots efforts, the youth are kicking the tobacco industry out of our neighborhoods," said Carmen Robles, director of Jóvenes de Salud, a Latino outreach program and member of ANSR, the oldest organization in the state solely dedicated to reducing tobacco's harm.

Jóvenes de Salud’s after-school enrichment program will be staffing an informational table at Neighborhood House on Thursday, May 31, 3-7 p.m., with a petition urging Family Dollar not to sell tobacco products.

Marketing of menthol cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, and smokeless tobacco has also become a growing concern. The percentage of Minnesota high school smokers who usually smoke menthol cigarettes has increased from 19.9 percent in 2000 to 47.3 percent, nearly half, in 2011, according to the 2011 Minnesota Youth Tobacco and Asthma Survey. The FDA is currently considering banning menthol cigarettes, which reduce some of the harshness and irritation experienced by new smokers.

"Every hour the tobacco industry spends 1 million dollars marketing their deadly product. In most cases, the salaries of the tobacco executives are more than the entire state budgets for prevention of the number one cause of death in our country - tobacco. Minnesota can’t afford to let Big Tobacco addict our youth and young adults. World No Tobacco Day is another opportunity to remind us that there is more to do," said Pat McKone, director of Tobacco Control Programs and Policy for the American Lung Association in Minnesota.

The American Cancer Society, and its advocacy organization, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, support evidence-based, health policies that work to prevent and beat cancer. "Tobacco causes more than 80 percent of lung cancer deaths nationwide and is responsible for nearly one-third of all cancers," said Matt Schafer, Minnesota government relations director with the American Cancer Society. "But these cancers can be prevented by making tobacco products less accessible and appealing to one of the industry’s biggest targets: kids."

Public health officials say it takes a multi-pronged approach to reduce tobacco use: adequate funding for tobacco prevention and control programs, strong, evidence-based policies like smoke-free laws, and education on the dangers of all tobacco products. They also point out that all Minnesotans have access to free professional help to quit smoking, regardless of insurance coverage. All the major health plans in Minnesota provide tobacco phone counseling and any Minnesotan without health coverage can contact QUITPLAN Services for free help to quit smoking. For more information, visit or call 1-888-354-PLAN (7526).

"For decades, the tobacco industry has heavily targeted specific communities and youth with intense advertising and promotions," said David Willoughby, Chief Executive Officer of ClearWay Minnesota, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing tobacco’s harm in Minnesota. "We need to remember that tobacco is still a leading cause of death and disease among all communities and there is more we should be doing to protect Minnesotans from this deadly product. We know that raising the price of tobacco is a proven method of helping current smokers quit and preventing our youth from ever starting."


For more information, contact:

Scott Smith
MDH Communications

Chris Tholkes
Tobacco Prevention and Control