The next step in the fight against tobacco
One of history's great victories for public health is the ongoing decline in cigarette smoking by adolescents and young adults, a triumph that has many authors. Its impact is measured in millions of saved lives, avoided suffering and billions of dollars in treatment savings.
But, as reported in the surgeon general's 2012 report, "Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults," the rate of decline has slowed over the last several years, while other forms of tobacco have attracted more young users, for example, cigar smoking. And, there has been no decline in recent years in young people's use of chewing tobacco.
Just as for cigarettes, habitual use of cigars and smokeless tobacco is a function of youth. Most addicted smokers and chewers begin by 18 and, if someone doesn't begin by 26, they probably won't.
Despite the devastating health consequences of tobacco use, state lawmakers continue to look the other way as young people's choices turn to chewing tobacco and cigars, especially since companies are attempting to attract that young market with cigars made with fruit and spice flavors.
The surgeon general's report notes that declines in smoking are due to a combination of sound science, public education and pricing through tax increases on tobacco.
Yet Pennsylvania is the only state that does not impose taxes on cigars and chewing tobacco. Lawmakers should include a new tax in the next state budget and dedicate the revenue to further fighting the public health scourge of tobacco use.