SPRING GROVE, Minnesota (STPNS) -- Smoking has dropped 17 percent in Minnesota adults between 1999 and 2007 according to a survey conducted by ClearWay Minnesota, explained Kerri Gordon, public relations manager at ClearWay, at the Sept. 16 Houston County Board meeting.

Gordon was before the board to inform them of all the services offered by the agency, created 10 years ago when the Minnesota Attorney General settled its lawsuit with big tobacco.

"Our state is unique, it settled separately and set up this independent organization with the $202 million settlement, giving it a 25-year lifespan to help Minnesotans quit smoking," she explained.

"It is a major public health priority in the state, costing $2 billion a year in healthcare costs," Gordon pointed out. "Of course $230 million is spent in one year of advertising by the tobacco companies in Minnesota."

ClearWay is eager to see what the next survey will reveal since the state passed the Freedom to Breathe Act that made Minnesota smoke free on Oct. 1 of last year.

Ann St. Claire, a researcher with ClearWay, explained how previous studies have shown that higher cigarette prices and taxes, as well as smoke-free policies are the two biggest contributors that convince people to quit smoking.

Smoking in Minnesota

Overall, education, income and age also affect the likelihood of someone beginning to smoke or continue to smoke. The average adult smoker in Minnesota is most likely to be male, younger (less than 30), less educated and have a lower income.

Overall 18.6 percent of men smoke while 15.5 percent of women smoke, although among Minnesotans with less than a high school education, 26.3 percent are smokers compared to 5.9 percent of those with a college degree.

Among Minnesotans with annual household incomes of $35,000 or less 23.2 percent are smokers while only 11 percent of those with household incomes of $75,000 or more smoke.

Fewer young adults (age 18 - 24) are smoking, declining 8 percent (from 36.8 percent in 2003 to 28.4 percent in 2007), meaning 42,000 fewer young adults are not smoking.

Other key findings from the survey show that the majority of smokers want to quit (56.7 percent) and have tried to quit smoking in the past 12 months.

How ClearWay is working

Minnesota's steady decline in smoking rates is better than the national average of 20 percent, which has basically been flat lined since 2004.

Gordon and St. Claire felt the creation of ClearWay is a big reason for the steady decline in Minnesota. "We have three areas of focus," Gordon explained.

1.) Research, providing grants to medical facilities researching tobacco addiction, as well as their own research with the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic.

2.) Quit Plan services, free to any Minnesotan who want to quit, an unparallelled service anywhere! The program offers a helpline, Web site, clinic help and medications to those who want to quit using tobacco (smoking and smokeless).

3.) Community outreach with statewide media campaigns educating about the dangers of smoking, working with legislators to pass the smoke free law and letting people know about the quitline and other services.

The full report and statistics are available online at www.mnadulttobaccosurvey.org.

To begin your journey to quit smoking visit online at www.quitplan.com or call toll-free at 1-888-354-PLAN.