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ERIC JOHNSON: North Dakota needs to boost tobacco taxes

As a Grand Forks physician and chairman of the recently announced efforts to initiate a ballot measure to increase North Dakota's tobacco taxes, it's important that the public be given the facts right off the bat.

▇ First, North Dakota's tobacco taxes have not been increased since 1993, ranking us 47th in the nation for cigarette tax rates.

If passed, this measure would bring North Dakota's cigarette tax from 44 cents per pack to $2.20 per pack, just slightly above the average of our neighboring states of $2.08 per pack.

▇ Second, the measure will treat the liquid nicotine drug (smoked via electronic cigarettes) and those who sell it exactly the same as all other tobacco products.

▇ Third, the measure will dedicate current revenues exactly where they currently are: to the state's general fund and back to North Dakota's cities.

New revenues generated from the increase will be split evenly between a fund created to support the unmet needs of North Dakota's veterans and a fund to support health programs associated with chronic disease treatment, county health programs and the mental health and addiction crisis facing our state.

Luckily, North Dakota already fully funds a tobacco prevention program, using a small portion of the money won by the state when it sued tobacco companies in 1998 for lying to the public and to Congress about the deadly impacts of tobacco. No moneys from this measure will go toward these efforts.

These are the facts: 75 percent of adult tobacco users started before the age of 18. Significant tobacco tax increases have been proven to be the most effective way to keep young people from ever starting tobacco. That's an effort we can all support.

Eric Johnson

Grand Forks

Dr. Johnson is a family medicine physician with Altru Health System.

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