FARGO - North Dakota and Minnesota both have room for improvement in their efforts to curb tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, according to an American Lung Association report issued Wednesday, Jan. 24.

The group gave each state a letter grade in several categories, including smoke-free air, tobacco taxes and the legal age for buying tobacco products.

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North Dakota received an A for smoke-free air but got an F for its tobacco taxes. The tax on a pack of cigarettes in North Dakota is 44 cents, the third lowest in the nation, the report said.

Minnesota has the nation's seventh highest tax per pack at $3.04. Minnesota received a grade of B in the tax category and an A for smoke-free air, the report said.

The minimum age to buy tobacco products in Minnesota and North Dakota is 18, like most states. Both states got an F in that category.

Reba Mathern-Jacobson, the American Lung Association's director of tobacco control, said raising the minimum age to 21 for tobacco sales may slow rates of young people starting to smoke.

"The older somebody is when they first start smoking, the less chance there is of them developing an addiction. Also, if 18-year-olds can legally purchase tobacco, cigarettes are highly accessible to high school students," she said.

During the last legislative session, North Dakota lawmakers redirected funding from the state Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy, also known as BreatheND, to the state Department of Health. And though North Dakota once met federal expectations for tobacco prevention program funding at 100 percent, the state now spends 63 percent of the recommended amount.

Restoring that funding is one of the American Lung Association's goals in North Dakota, along with raising tobacco taxes and the age limit.

In Minnesota, the group's goals are to "keep tobacco prices high," limit access to flavored tobacco products, raise the age limit and secure funding for tobacco prevention strategies, the report said.