Pa. should emulate Florida's approach to teen smoking
One of the constant findings in research on smoking is that people who don't smoke before their 18th birthday likely never will do so. That makes middle school and high school key battlefields in the war against smoking.
Smoking generally has declined steadily over the last several decades among adults and adolescents nationwide due to herculean education efforts, higher taxes on cigarettes and laws against smoking in enclosed public places.
In Pennsylvania, according to an annual survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the progress has not been as great as in some other states.
According to the CDC's most recent survey, 18.4 percent of Pennsylvania high school students smoke, and 15,300 kids under 18 become daily smokers each year.
In Florida, by contrast, the high school smoking rate has fallen to 8.6 percent, far lower than the Pennsylvania rate and even the national average rate of 15.8 percent.
Part of Florida's experience offers a model for other states. One key is that 15 percent of its share of the national tobacco settlement fund is dedicated to youth smoking prevention efforts under a state constitutional mandate. In Pennsylvania and many other states, the money is designated by legislative appropriation. The constitutional mandate eliminates the political considerations that go into budget decisions.
All states - none more so that Pennsylvania - are experiencing a new trend in youth smoking. Producers are marketing flavored small cigars to teens. Pennsylvania is the only state that does not tax cigars, so the cigars are much cheaper than cigarettes. The state should apply the same taxes to those products as it does to cigarettes.
Florida's experience proves that substantial progress can made to save young people from the ravages of smoking. Pennsylvania should take up the challenge.