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Minnesota Tobacco Control

Over the last thirty-five years. the state of Minnesota has played a special role in U.S. tobacco control. Back in 1975, Minnesota was the first state to enact a Clean Indoor Air Act. Although the Act did not eliminate smoking in public setting, but only required the creation of “Smoking Permitted” and “No Smoking Areas,” it was still a groundbreaking law at the time. Ten years later, the Minnesota Department of Health launched the country’s first state-funded tobacco control program with a portion of the proceeds of the cigarette tax. In 1986, the Surgeon General shook the public health world with the release of The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, the first Surgeon General’s report on secondhand smoke. Minnesota took notice.

Minnesota Litigation

Eight years later, the state of Minnesota and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota filed a lawsuit in State District Court in Ramsey County that would revolutionize tobacco control. The state accused cigarette manufacturers and related trade associations of violating antitrust and consumer protection statutes by failing to disclose data about the dangers and addictive qualities of cigarettes. The concept of such a lawsuit at the time was unfathomable. The result four years later was an unprecedented settlement agreement, which former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop called “one of the most significant health achievements of the second half of the 20th century.”

Later that same year, the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement was signed, an accord between the five largest U.S. tobacco companies and the state attorneys general of forty-six states, five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia concerning the advertising, marketing and promotion of tobacco products. The world of tobacco control was changing: for the first time in history, the tobacco industry was being held accountable for the epidemic of tobacco use that had cost countless lives over the years.

Minnesota Legislation

In 2000, the tiny town of Moose Lake became the first Minnesota city to pass a smoke-free restaurant ordinance. That also was the year the Public Health Law Center (the former Tobacco Law Project/Center), was established at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. Over the next six years, the state passed a wave of smoke-free legislation. As public health advocates and professionals worked tirelessly in smoke-free campaigns across Minnesota, from Moorhead, Bemidji and Duluth to Olmsted County and the Twin Cities, the attorneys at the Public Health Law Center worked along with them, providing communities with legal technical assistance and support around the clock, writing almost every one of Minnesota’s local smoke-free ordinances, and also drafting tobacco taxation and product regulation policies.

In May 2007, our attorneys wrote Minnesota’s statewide smoke-free law, the Freedom to Breathe Act of 2007, a comprehensive smoke-free law that covers indoor public places and workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Our staff worked in tandem with public health advocates and policymakers, helping to guide the legislation through 19 legislative hearings and 109 proposed amendments.

This section contains Minnesota-specific tobacco control resources and publications prepared by the legal professionals at the Public Health Law Center, including Tracking Tobacco Laws: A Minnesota Digest – the definitive analysis of Minnesota’s countless tobacco-related laws, which has become a standard reference for attorneys, local officials and health professionals concerned about the impact of tobacco on Minnesota. We also include a special section on the Minnesota tobacco litigation and resulting settlement that made history. Finally, we include a link to the Public Health Law Center’s WorkSHIFTS Program, our Minnesota-based collaborative labor outreach program that has worked for years to heighten awareness among labor union workers, leaders and management on issues of tobacco and health.


Check out our resources in the sidebar, or in our Minnesota Tobacco Control resource archive.