The countdown to World No Tobacco Day
is well underway. This year the World Health Organization (WHO)
is calling on governments to increase taxes on tobacco to levels
that reduce consumption and individuals and organizations to urge
their governments to raise tobacco taxes. And it's time for the
United States to fall in line and act.
Has a lot been done to curb smoking since 1960s? Yes. We all
know smoking kills. We know smoking causes all kinds of cancers,
stroke, heart attacks, heart disease, and the list goes on and
on. We know this. Is it enough? No. The fact remains
that cigarettes continue to kill an estimated
443,000 Americans every year, either from smoking itself or
exposure to secondhand smoke. An additional
8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by cigarettes,
and the economic burden of tobacco use is staggering. Tobacco
costs the country $96 billion dollars a year in direct medical
costs and an additional $97 billion a year from lost productivity,
for a grand total of $193 billion dollars lost--lost from something
that is entirely preventable.
Not enough is being done in the United States to end tobacco
use, and it's time for that to change. To be fair, some cities and
states have embraced the initiative.
Maryland supported a $1 cigarette tax increase,
New Jersey and
Delaware passed smoking bans for their parks and beaches, and
Philadelphia went smokefree in its city parks. These smokefree
laws are successfully helping to curb health issues and save cities
and states money. For example, smokefree laws have been
documented to prevent chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
hospitalizations in areas of
Kentucky where local laws prohibit smoking in public spaces.
These are good momentum starters. But, for a developed
country, we are way behind.
Sri Lanka is pushing for 80 percent coverage with graphic
warning labels on their cigarette packs.
Russia is pushing to raise the price of cigarettes;
Singapore is starting look into both raising the age limit for
smoking and implementing plain packaging;
Melbourne, Australia, is currently considering a smoking ban
that would make it "the world's first smoke free city."
Bahrain is considering raising its tobacco tax by up to 300
China is about to launch a month-long campaign to promote a
nationwide ban on smoking in public places.
Pakistan is planning to increase the excise tax on cigarettes
from 55 percent to between 65 and 70 percent. The
British government is likely to impose a ban on branding for
cigarette packs, introducing some of the toughest restrictions on
tobacco sales in the world. The
European Parliament approved regulations to permit visual and
text health warnings that would cover 65 percent of the front and
back of cigarette packages and 50 percent of their sides.
And the United States?
Moves to require graphic warnings on cigarette packages have
stymied in federal courts. Similar fights are occurring with
proposals to raise cigarette taxes, despite the fact that raising
the price of tobacco has proven to be one of the
most effective strategies for preventing and controlling
tobacco use. So, how should we get the momentum going? It's time
for states to get more involved. State and local governments should
start enacting laws with the idea of creating a smokefree
generation. The Australian island state of Tasmania is
already trying to do this in its efforts to ban young people
from smoking cigarettes by preventing their sale to anyone born
after the year 2000. In effect, when people born after 2000 reach
the age of 18, the ban would go into effect, and thereafter, the
legal age to purchase cigarettes would be raised each subsequent
year so that this generation would never be able to legally buy
It is time. The current status quo of 18.1 percent still smoking
in the U.S. is no longer good enough. Smokefree generations need to
start becoming realities instead of fantasies. As
Richard A. Daynard, a professor of law at Northeastern
University and president of its Public Health Advocacy Institute,
points out "some antismoking advocates who support existing
approaches…fear that pushing for an '"end game"--a smoking rate
below 10 percent--is too ambitious. But then, banning smoking in
restaurants, workplaces and bars was once seen as crazy, too.
Sometimes, a little crazy goes a long way."
Will you support efforts toward a smokefree