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Editorial: Snuff, save ... and live

“If you smoke, you die,” a 1970s television ad campaign proclaimed.

That public service announcement probably got some results, but studies since have proven that it’s death to the pocket book that motivates people to quit.

An estimated 22 percent of Minnesotans smoked 1999. Current estimates put smokers at 16 percent of the population. The reduction is thanks primarily to efforts launched after Minnesota’s 1998 tobacco settlement.

On Monday, the state upped the ante, raising the tobacco sales tax a hefty $1.60 a pack. Lawmakers took a deep breath and increased the tax by 76 percent to $2.83 per pack.

ClearWay Minnesota’s research shows that for every penny the price of cigarettes climb, another 244 Minnesotans will quit smoking. At 160 pennies, that should equate to an additional 39,000 smoke-free residents.

Better yet, every penny increase steers 318 more kids away from tobacco, according to ClearWay. That’s nearly 51,000 people who will never pick up the nasty, costly habit.

Of course, the new tax will generate additional revenue for the state — about $400 million in the fiscal year that started July 1. That’s even with residents buying 64 million fewer packs, the Minnesota Department of Revenue estimates. The thought of more revenue certainly persuaded some lawmakers to vote for the higher tax. (There’s that monetary motivator, again.)

But the primary selling point for raising the tax was to cut down the number of people who smoke. This will lead to better health for these former smokers and those who suffered their second-hand smoke in the long run.

Years down the road, people’s gradually improving health will cut millions from $2.06 billion Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids calculates Minnesota spends on health care costs directly caused by smoking. The state — i.e. you, the taxpayer — stands to save again because Minnesota Medicaid covers $465 million of that $2.06 billion.

And even if no one in your family smokes, you still should cheer each time someone takes a last drag: Your household’s current state and federal smoking-induced tax burden is $609.

The new law will help some of Minnesota’s 600,000 smokers quit. If you’re a tobacco addict, refuse to pay $7.50 a pack. Put the pennies in your pocket and change your life for good.  

Because remember, if you smoke, you die.