ST. PAUL (AP) -- Aware that some lawmakers are eyeing tobacco-control funds as a way to fix Minnesota's deficit-riddled budget, health groups warned Tuesday that eliminating anti-smoking endowments will cost the state more in the long run.
Leaders of the Minnesota Smoke-Free Coalition and other organizations said programs funded through $590 million in endowments are helping curb youth smoking and will result in lower future health costs. The endowments were set up with part of Minnesota's $6.1 billion settlement with the tobacco industry.
"We must remember there is a long-term cost to being shortsighted," said Dr. Blanton Bessinger, past president of the Minnesota Medical Association.
The groups also urged Gov.-elect Tim Pawlenty and legislators to consider raising cigarette taxes by $1 per pack as another way to deter people from smoking.
Pawlenty, a Republican, has vowed to veto any tax increase, but coalition leaders say they consider tobacco taxes "user fees" paid only by those who smoke. A $1 increase would raise between $300 million and $350 million a year, according to state estimates. Since 1992, Minnesota's tax has been $.48 per pack, which puts it in the middle of all states.
The 2003 session will be a difficult one for the groups. The endowments have been under fire since they were created in 1999, but the state's budget troubles have made them a more attractive target.
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