Keeping smokes from kids

Cigarette purchases: House should approve anti-smoking bill without crippling amendments.

April 08, 2000

EVERY DAY, 3,000 American teen-agers begin smoking, and many get their cigarettes, illegally, through vending machines.

That's an avenue the Maryland General Assembly can block. A bill before the House of Delegates would require that tobacco vending machines accept tokens rather than coins and dollars. Teens would find it harder to obtain their smokes.

The bill would force them to purchase these tokens from adult retailers where the vending machines are located. Retailers would risk a $100 fine if they are caught selling tokens to teens.

Placing an adult intermediary between youth smokers and cigarette machines will deter many of them from picking up this addictive habit. For the first time, retailers will have a monetary incentive to prevent teens from using tobacco vending machines.

No one opposed this bill at Senate or House hearings. Yet suddenly, lobbyists for vending machine companies and their allies in the tobacco industry are trying to kill the bill with last-minute amendments.

To its credit, the House Environmental Matters Committee rejected some two-dozen crippling changes yesterday and sent the bill, unamended, to the House floor.

We urge swift and decisive passage of a clean bill, so it can get to the governor's desk for signature well in advance of Monday night's sine die adjournment.

Two years ago, the state comptroller's office conducted a study that showed minors could purchase cigarettes from vending machines 70 percent of the time.

The younger the smoker, the more likely he or she is to get tobacco products from vending machines: A study by the vending machine industry found that 22 percent of 13-year-old smokers use vending machines, versus 2 percent of 17-year-old smokers.

Maryland can end this easy access by passing the tokens-only bill. It also would join 48 other states in making retailers liable if a minor purchases cigarettes from their vending machines. These are sensible steps that dovetail nicely with the governor's smoking-prevention initiative approved by lawmakers earlier this week.

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