Freedom to Breathe

Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States.

This is according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it’s been that way for a long time. 

During the early 2000s, communities across Minnesota were involved in a political tug-of-war over tobacco control policies. 

While many communities supported such measures, others thought smoke-free policies would be too restrictive and interfere with business. Public health advocates supported legislation for an expanded statewide law each legislative session, but those bills were quickly defeated. 

Blue Cross played a leadership role in shaping the discussion, which focused on equal protection of health for all workers, health equity and a health care cost rationale. 
By 2007, the legislative environment seemed right for making a push for an expanded statewide smoke-free law to prohibit smoking in virtually all indoor public places and indoor places of employment. Momentum for smoke-free policies was increasing around the nation, and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty suggested openness to a smoke-free law. Health organizations, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, quickly formed a coalition through which they could collaboratively advocate for a statewide smoke-free workplaces law. Efforts included:

  • Lobbying: Approximately 20 lobbyists from coalition member organizations made an expanded smoke-free policy one of their top priorities of the legislative session.
  • Communications and public relations: Communications professionals from member organizations helped to craft proactive messages, create reactive plans and identify media opportunities. 
  • Grassroots mobilization: Advocates around the state were well organized, amplified the message and reinforced public support. 

The campaign was successful, and the Freedom to Breathe amendment to the Minnesota Clean Air Act passed and was implemented on October 1, 2007. 

Related links


  • Making Healthy Choices Possible for All Minnesotans

    The Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota tackles the leading causes of preventable disease -- tobacco use, physical inactivity and unhealthy eating -- to increase health equity, transform communities and create a healthier state.