Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, a health insurance company, is pushing for a bill to add $1 to Minnesota's current 48 cent tobacco tax. This tax would increase the price of cigarettes by $1 per pack. Proceeds from the tax would go towards reducing the costs of health care; the higher cost of cigarettes would theoretically deter young people from smoking.
On May 12, 2004, The New York Times reported on a study which showed an 11 percent decrease in the number of New York City smokers from 2002-2003, after New York state increased its cigarette tax from 88 cents to $3.39 per pack. The study also reported a 13 percent decline in cigarette consumption, showing that those smokers who did not quit smoked less than they previously had.
"National studies show that higher taxes deter youth smoking," Pete Stiles '05, co-leader of the Wellness Center, said. "The [on-campus] petition will show youth support for the tax."
Overall, students have noted a higher visibility of tobacco awareness information. Anna Peterson '07, a Healthy Lifestyle Assistant with the Wellness Center, attributed the higher visibility to the Wellness Center's central location. as well as "lots of people who want to work hard."
Both Peterson and Stiles said student response has been good so far.
"Students have said that they appreciate our efforts," Peterson said, mentioning some students' eagerness to sign the petition.
Some students, however, have written negative comments on anonymous message boards posted in the walkway between Rolvaag Memorial Library and Buntrock Commons. Comments include profanity, as well as statements such as "Don't attack us."
"Chronic smokers aren't happy with the smoking health propaganda," Stiles said. "I'm disappointed with the language used on the message boards. I expected more from the St. Olaf campus."
Peterson and Stiles both mentioned the goal of the Wellness Center and the importance of health on a college campus.
"We just get the word out about health-related issues," Peterson said. "People need to respect our mission. We are here for the campus."
Stiles stressed that the anti-smoking messages are not meant to attack smokers.
"The Wellness Center is by no means persecuting smokers with our current campaign," Stiles said. "We genuinely care about students' health, and work to promote healthy lifestyles."