Imagine driving around town and, by chance, running into your 12-year-old son or daughter. They're oblivious to your presence. As you get closer you notice something in their hand. It's a cigarette, a heater. You had no idea your child smoked and you're furious. Later that day you have that talk that you probably should've already had, or if you had it, it simply didn't sink in.
As you go to bed that night, you're still upset - at your kid, yourself. The last thing you ever thought or wanted to see was your kid lighting up, you're worried they're already hooked. Parents have enough challenges and worries when it comes to their children, but the most important should be their health, and smoking at a young age presents one big obstacle in ensuring your child grows up healthy.
Things should get a little easier for parents starting Sunday when the Tobacco Modernization and Compliance Act goes into effect.
The bill passed the Legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law by Gov. Tim Pawlenty on May 11. The bill expands the legal definition of tobacco to include all tobacco products, requires all tobacco products to be sold behind the counter and prevents the sale of new tobacco products and e-cigarettes to youth.
In 2009, tobacco companies spent $12.8 billion marketing their products nationwide, spending nearly $200 million of that in Minnesota alone, ClearWay Minnesota said. The Modernization and Compliance Act report released by ClearWay Minnesota this year examines new tobacco products that appeal to children and get around smoke-free laws, as well as marketing practices such as sending free tobacco to soldiers serving overseas, making sure young people see tobacco in stores, movies and video games, and introducing cigarettes in countries where tobacco's harm is not well understood.
June 22 marked the one-year anniversary of a landmark law giving the FDA authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products. Several critical new regulations took effect, including:
Companies can no longer use misleading terms like light in tobacco advertising and labeling
A ban on tobacco-branded sports and entertainment sponsorships, and national requirements that tobacco products be placed behind the counter in stores
Smokeless tobacco packaging and ads must include larger, stronger warning labels.
But if kids want to experiment with smoking, warning labels - no matter how large they're printed or what font they're printed in - are not going to stop them. When a nicely-wrapped gift includes a card that reads "Don't open 'til Christmas," what's the first thing a kid will want to do? Open it. Many kids just don't care about warning labels.
Minnesota can do more to keep kids from smoking, and should - but not with programs and literature. As much as we try to spook kids about the harmful effects of smoking - and it has worked to an extent - the best way to prevent it from happening is to make it more difficult for kids to get their hands on a pack of smokes in the first place. And the best way to do that is to jack up the price.
Minnesota has not raised the price of tobacco products in five years, and, according to ClearWay Minnesota, many cigarette-type products can still be purchased for under $2 a pack.
Smoking prevention programs have their place and have proven beneficial, but instead of spending more money on these programs - money that probably won't be available in the future anyway because of the state's budget problems - wouldn't it make more sense to work on making it so expensive to smoke that kids literally couldn't afford to do it?