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Fighting Tobacco the MPAAT Way
By Patty Marsicano
October 5, 1999
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It's been a year since Minnesota's settlement with the tobacco industry created a non-profit anti-tobacco organization called MPAAT -the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco. State health officials say about 22 percent of Minnesota adults smoke, about the same as the national average. One of MPAAT'S missions is to help smokers quit, but it's not required to reduce smoking rates. So what is MPAAT doing? Minnesota Public Radio's Patty Marsicano reports in the second of a three-part tobacco series.

MPAAT HAS ABOUT $120 million in hand, and will get another $80 million over the next eight years. With that money, MPAAT is supposed to "reduce the human and economic consequences of tobacco use," before it goes out of business in 2023. Executive Director Kathy Harty says MPAAT is up against an industry that does aggressive marketing in Minnesota.
Harty: While we have resources of $202 million, that is not an unlimited amount of money and the tobacco industry spends $90 million a year, and we have $202 million over 25 years. So the resources are very, very good resources, but are not unlimited.
While the organization has not been very visible over the last year, Harty says MPAAT has done a lot so far; setting up two major committees and giving away over a million nicotine patches.

Through June 30th, MPAAT spent just over $3 million - $2 million to distribute the patches and $1 million to set up an office, hire staff, hold meetings, and survey 6,000 people about smoking. The survey results will come out soon.

But what does MPAAT mean to the smoker who wants to quit?
Humphrey: Probably not enough right now.
Former Attorney General Skip Humphrey, who spearheaded the tobacco trial and whose office negotiated MPAAT in the tobacco settlement.
Humphrey: I hope that visibility comes up even higher. But with the programs that can be started, with the initiatives that will begin to show up, I think it will become something that will be very important.
Doug Blanke worked on Humphrey's tobacco litigation team and says MPAAT has made the correct decision to take its time, and come up with a good plan rather than just a quick one.
Blanke: They understand that young people are getting addicted every day. People are becoming ill every day. People are dying everyday. So there's a great temptation to start spending that money, I suppose there could even be a temptation to start throwing money at the problem. But at the same time they are in this for the long haul.
The main thing MPAAT has done over the last year is hold meetings. Board chairman Dr. Richard Hurt says there's no reason to rush to spend money.
Hurt: I think that we're still kind of feeling our way along making sure we do things very carefully. We view this as a public trust and we want to make sure we're good stewards and I think's the reason we do talk about things and talk them through.
MPAAT is a non-profit that uses public money. But St. Paul Pioneer Press editorial writer D.J. Tice says a group with so much public money should not be independent of the governor and Legislature.
Tice: Clearly they were motivated to want to set up a structure that got this money outside the political process. They're worried about the influence that tobacco companies, the tobacco industry may have at the Legislature, so they definitely wanted to insulate it from the political process. I'm just very uneasy with that idea of insulating it from the political process because ultimately that's insulating it from the people.
But Director Harty says MPAAT is based on the recommendations of a national blue-ribbon commission, and that programs under state supervision can be sidetracked by other issues and have their funding cut by hostile lawmakers.

Harty says this is the only time in history the state has this kind of opportunity to take on the tobacco industry, and that developing a strategy to do so takes time.

She says MPAAT will meet one of its goal by the first of the year, when it starts issuing anti-smoking grants.

In the final part of our tobacco series, Laura McCallum looks at other states that have successfully reduced teen smoking.