Column: Protecting our children from smokeWORTHINGTON — As the smoke clears from the political drama and rancor over the passing of health care reform in Washington, D.C., my guess is regular folks in southwest Minnesota are still confused, and the good, or the not so good, of the historic legislation won’t be measured for some time.
By: Dr. Richard Sudmeier and Suzanne Sudmeier, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — As the smoke clears from the political drama and rancor over the passing of health care reform in Washington, D.C., my guess is regular folks in southwest Minnesota are still confused, and the good, or the not so good, of the historic legislation won’t be measured for some time.
In the meantime, let’s hope that as the smoke rises and the spring air clears, locally we can avoid a serious political hangover and embrace an opportunity to improve the collective health of our own communities.
What we’re asking is, what if, as we wait for the “big deal” health care reforms to play out, our community and state leaders came together to accomplish some common sense solutions? Solutions that aren’t hard to understand, difficult to accomplish or require additional cost to taxpayers — and would have a direct and significant impact on health care costs and the health and well being of our children and grandchildren?
For example, if you consider that in Minnesota alone, tobacco use results in $2 billion in health care costs, can you imagine the direct impact a significant reduction of tobacco use would have in the effort to reduce the price tag of health care?
Yes, both the state of Minnesota and our local community have long been leaders in promoting smoke-free policies and opportunity for smoking cessation, but through additional small steps taken both voluntarily and by law, there is much more that we can do.
One such common sense effort is to keep children from using tobacco.
One might think that in today’s hyper-communication society kids are surely aware of the perils of tobacco use and would avoid its use like the plague. Not so. Today’s tobacco industry is continuously evolving and adapting to 21st-century standards and finding new ways to hook children, teenagers and young adults into using, or continuing to use their products. Many of the tobacco industry’s tactics are either skirting existing laws or they aren’t covered by laws at all.
Admittedly, this one’s not easy. Last year the tobacco industry spent more than $190 million marketing its products in Minnesota. Much of that cleverly and indirectly, aimed at young adults.
An attempt to mitigate these trends is the proposed Tobacco Modernization and Compliance Act that is currently moving through the legislature in St. Paul. Basically, this act will take some very simple steps to reduce youth access to tobacco products and reduce the ability of tobacco companies to evade paying taxes on certain products. Those steps include: Classifying “little cigars” to what they really are — cigarettes — and subjecting them to further regulation and tax stamping; ensuring that new products such as candy flavored, nicotine-laced chewing tobaccos are covered by existing tobacco laws and not sold next to candy and gum; prohibiting the sale of electronic nicotine delivery devices that simulate smoking to youth; and funding a Minnesota Department of Revenue study that would determine the best way to collect taxes and fees on all tobacco products.
Admittedly, in light of the efforts of Congress and the President to achieve comprehensive health care reform, these simple measures may not seem like a “big deal,” but if accomplished, they just might keep one of our children or grandchildren from the pain and suffering of tobacco-related disease.
A small thing, but much easier to understand and much closer to home than what comes down from Washington, D.C.
Dr. Richard Sudmeier and Suzanne Sudmeier are both employed at Avera Worthington Speciality Clinics.