Progress against teen smoking

Progress against teen smoking

Lifesaver: Maryland's decision to boost the tax on cigarettes raises money, too.

October 20, 2001

ADVOCATES called their tax increase proposal a health measure.

Tobacco lobbyists and smokers' groups -- who opposed the 30-cent-per-package increase -- sneered at what they called more propaganda from the "health police."

The advocates are right to put up barriers wherever they can.

Teen-age allowances wouldn't support a costlier habit, they theorized.

The predictable skepticism of Big Tobacco led to useful public debate and further dissemination of smoking's horrendous personal and public cost.

Increased anti-smoking advertisements on billboards and television helped, of course.

Now a survey released by the Maryland Department of Education shows a significant decline in the smoking rate among those kids who say they've smoked at least once during the last 30 days. The survey covered 34,500 Maryland students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12.

The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids claims a double victory.

Fewer young people have adopted a dangerous and costly habit. And the higher tax has produced $80 million more in cigarette sales revenue.

Some 18 percent to 20 percent of Marylanders smoke -- though we imagine many of them, if not most, would like to stop. And many would be the first to support efforts to keep kids from starting.

People who smoke as adults started before they were 18 for the most part.

For that reason, the survey's findings are most welcome.

As many as 20,000 young Marylanders have been diverted from this path at least temporarily.

Thousands of them would have become victims of heart disease and lung cancer.

It's difficult to think of a public health measure that could match the contribution of the 30-cent-per- pack tax increase.

Advocates say voters -- who smoke at a lower rate than the population as a whole -- are increasingly supportive of anti-smoking measures, including tax increases.

The health police -- and we applaud them -- say they won't push for more increases in the next legislative session.

Given these results, maybe they should reconsider.

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