By Jenny Song - Sr. Communications & Advocacy Consultant

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Local anti-tobacco policy victory in the Twin Cities led by community advocates

November 10, 2017

November 1 marked a local policy victory for stronger tobacco restrictions. On this day, a new ordinance in St. Paul went into effect, restricting the sale of menthol tobacco products to adult-only tobacco shops and liquor stores.

The Center for Prevention at Blue Cross supported the work by funding and partnering with the Association for Nonsmokers – Minnesota, who led the tireless advocacy efforts through the Beautiful Lie, Ugly Truth campaign. Blue Cross also played an integral role in the Menthol Coalition, through testimony, letters of support to the mayor and members of city council, and by having direct meetings with several key council members.

Council members voted six to one in favor of the restriction, with the ordinance to take effect on November 1, 2018. St. Paul is the second city in Minnesota to pass an ordinance restricting access to menthol tobacco, with Minneapolis passing a similar ordinance in August.

Tobacco’s targeted marketing to specific groups

Because of deliberate and sophisticated marketing from the tobacco industry, youth, African Americans and LGBTQ people smoke at disproportionately higher rates than the general population. Most use menthol tobacco products. The addition of menthol makes it easier to start and more difficult to quit.

“As a lifelong St. Paul resident, I am so proud of how the community led this effort in calling out the targeting of youth, communities of color and LGBTQ people by the tobacco industry,” said Anika Ward, director of the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross. “I want to thank the members of city council for their courage, leadership and commitment to the health of Saint Paul.”

Ward testified on behalf of Blue Cross and the St. Paul community where she lives in support of the ordinance.

Community led the way

Community-led advocacy was instrumental to success in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. In fact, city council members in both cities noted the importance of hearing from the community in making their decision on which way to vote.

“Tobacco is still a problem in my community,” said William, a 12-year-old youth advocate. “I see kids in my neighborhood smoking menthols almost every day and I see lots of signs at the convenience store advertising for menthol.”

“To Big Tobacco, each new smoker and each current smoker who can’t quit means more profits,” said Damone Presley of the Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation. “For us, the price is high. It is our dad who died way too soon or our grandmother unable to breathe without her oxygen tank.”

“Menthol is so addictive that it makes it extremely hard to quit,” said Sylvia Amos, president of the Minnesota State Baptist Convention Women’s Auxiliary. “This fight is about saving lives. St. Paul is fortunate to have a city council that is willing to lead on this issue.”

“I decided to support the menthol restriction in response to a very broad-based coalition of community groups: people of color, young people, the LGBTQ community, the medical community and our own public health department,” said Jane Prince, the St. Paul City Council member representing Ward 7 and the ordinance’s champion.

“The coalition made me aware that the tobacco industry has targeted young people and communities of color for decades, focusing the sale of menthol products in communities like the ones I represent. I am fed up with this horrible industry that has cost our city, state and nation a tremendous fortune in dollars and, more importantly, lives.”

Blue Cross’ ongoing commitment

Earlier this year, Blue Cross released a study showing that each year smoking claims over 6,000 lives in Minnesota and that it costs $3.19 billion to treat smoking-related diseases. That equates to $593 for every adult and child in the state. The number of deaths is equal to eliminating an entire small Minnesota town.

Blue Cross is the co-chair of Minnesotans for a Smoke-free Generation, a coalition of more than 50 community organizations working for policy change at both the local and state level that that reduce youth smoking and help end the death and disease associated with tobacco use, including limiting youth access to menthol-, candy- and fruit- flavored tobacco, raising the tobacco age to 21, keeping tobacco prices high and funding tobacco control programs.

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