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Governor urged to sign Tobacco Modernization Act

When Minnesota passed a comprehensive smoke-free law, we took a giant step toward protecting Minnesotans from secondhand smoke in all workplaces and enclosed public spaces.

But the tobacco industry has found new ways to grow their business and put our health at risk. The industry continues to thrive through clever marketing, exploiting legal loopholes and introducing new products. These tobacco products are particularly appealing to youth because they are very inexpensive and come in a variety of candy and fruit-flavors and are widely available.

Minnesota laws need to keep pace with these new tobacco threats. Smokeless tobacco products such as Snus come in pouches that don't require spitting. Camel has introduced a line of smokeless tobacco orbs, sticks and strips, which are finely milled tobacco and look like toothpicks, mints or breath strips. They dissolve in your mouth and are packaged to look like a container of breath mints or a small cell phone. These products are discreet, addictive and attract young customers.

This new line of tobacco products may look harmless, however, they are not. Smokeless tobacco is linked to oral cancers, gum disease, addiction and heart disease. Even a single tobacco orb the size of a breath mint contains enough nicotine to sicken a small child. The strong product marketing has led to 13.4 percent of high school boys and 2.3 percent of high school girls using smokeless tobacco, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Unfortunately, state laws and regulations were crafted for a 20th century industry and already are outdated and fail to protect young people from these 21st century products. The scariest part is that current Minnesota law does not restrict our kids from buying these sticks, strips and orbs.

Thankfully, the Tobacco Modernization and Compliance Act of 2010 is on the governor's desk to sign.

Supported by leading Minnesota health organizations, this bill would expand the definition of tobacco products to cover any type of product made from tobacco and intended for human consumption. The bill also would require all tobacco products to be sold behind the counter and ensure youth do not have easy access to tobacco.

I strongly urge the governor to sign this critical legislation into law. It is a common-sense solution to the growing problem of new smokeless tobacco products. It will keep pace with the tobacco industry's efforts to increase its profits at the expense of our children's health. And it is the first step necessary to protect our kids from the harms of tobacco use.

Now is the time to act and continue to focus on the harmful nature of tobacco products. This is a public health priority and the Tobacco Modernization and Compliance Act of 2010 will bring state laws into the 21st century.

Dr. Mary J. Boylan is a member of the American Heart Association - Midwest Affiliate Board and St. Luke's Cardiothoracic Surgery Associates.