Minnesota Celebrates Five Years of Fresh Air

MINNEAPOLIS, Oct. 1, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Today marks the fifth anniversary of Minnesota's Freedom to Breathe Act, the law that made Minnesota's bars, restaurants and workplaces smoke-free. The landmark health legislation, which received strong bipartisan support, was enacted on October 1, 2007. Since that time, the law has been an overwhelming success, significantly decreasing secondhand smoke exposure for residents statewide.

Minnesotans overwhelmingly support the law. A 2011 poll conducted by Decision Resources, Ltd. found that 79 percent of Minnesotans support the law and that 86 percent of Minnesotans believe smoke-free restaurants and bars are healthier for customers and employees.

"The Freedom to Breathe Act has had a tremendous impact on the health of Minnesotans," said Dr. Edward Ehlinger, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health. "It's led to a decline in exposure to secondhand smoke, the number of addicted smokers and the number of heart attacks in our state. Simply put, Minnesotans have embraced our smoke-free laws because they are making us healthier."

Smoke-free policies help reduce smoking – since 2007 Minnesota's adult smoking prevalence has declined to 16.1 percent. Exposure to cancer-causing carcinogens has fallen by 85 percent and nicotine exposure by 83 percent. In addition, hospitality workers were among those most affected by the law and are now healthier.

"I was ecstatic when the law went into effect," commented Betzy Gaetz, Manager of Anton's Restaurant in St. Cloud, Minn. "As a restaurant manager, as someone who went smoke-free prior to the law, it was nice to know everybody was on the same playing field."

View a video testimonial by Betzy Gaetz: http://youtu.be/1CEg6hFaJQM

Many Minnesota bar and restaurant patrons say they are enjoying the changes they have noticed since 2007. "I think that [bars and restaurants] are healthier now for all of us. Employees especially don't have to be breathing that in all the time," said Shay Baumbach, mother, Byron, Minn. "I think we all remember how bad we smelled, and that smell that just clings to your clothes and into your hair when you leave a restaurant or bar that did have smoking."

View a video testimonial by Shay Baumbach: http://youtu.be/0jj-22tQLNg

The smoke-free law was a very positive step, but unfortunately, smoking remains a leading cause of death and disease in our state, and 625,000 Minnesotans still smoke. Smoking costs the lives of more than 5,100 Minnesotans per year and nearly $3 billion each year in excess health care costs.

Minnesota also has to contend with the large tobacco industry presence in the state. Despite lawsuits and new regulations to curb their influence, tobacco companies continue to thrive and to spend millions to attract new smokers.

"We know the tobacco industry spends $157 million per year in Minnesota marketing their products, and unfortunately their efforts are working," said Matt Schafer, Minnesota Director of Government Relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. "Research shows more than 6,800 Minnesota kids become daily smokers each year."

Advocates will gather today for the fifth anniversary of the smoke-free law at Cafe Latte in St. Paul – not just to celebrate – to focus on the work that still needs to be done to further improve the health of Minnesotans and prevent more youth from starting to use tobacco.

"The Freedom to Breathe law is a great success story, but now is not the time to be complacent," said Commissioner Ehlinger. "There is more work to be done on tobacco control in Minnesota to ensure future generations are not impacted by this deadly product."

For more information about the success of the Freedom to Breathe law and the five-year birthday, visit www.clearwaymn.org.

The American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Association for Nonsmokers – Minnesota, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, ClearWay MinnesotaSM and Minnesota Department of Health are part of a coalition of Minnesota's leading health and nonprofit organizations that share a common goal of reducing tobacco use. More than 5,100 Minnesotans still die from tobacco-related disease each year and tobacco continues to be a major driver of the state's escalating health care costs.

SOURCE ClearWay Minnesota