CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Around 60 percent of West Virginians favor raising the cigarette tax to prevent teens from becoming addicted to nicotine, which eventually leads thousands of them to unnecessary illness and premature death, according to West Virginia University's 2012 Adult Tobacco Survey.
Meanwhile, the Governor's Advisory Council on Substance Abuse recommended boosting the state cigarette tax for the same reason.
But Gov. Tomblin opposes this lifesaving step, because he "doesn't think right now is a good time to be taxing families," an aide said. Presumably, his opposition will hobble chances that the 2013 Legislature will price cigarettes out of reach for teens.
However, we think both the governor and Legislature should take a sober look at the curse inflicted by West Virginia's horrible rate of nicotine addiction. The Centers for Disease Control says the Mountain State has the nation's worst smoking rate, and also the worst rate by pregnant women. That's humiliating.
The Legislature also should consider a statewide ban on smoking inside public places -- a lifesaving measure already approved in 28 states, with others expected to follow. Instead, West Virginia leaves this protection to county health boards, and only 18 of 55 counties have acted, at last count.
Cigarettes cause more than 400,000 needless U.S. deaths per year, and inflict enormous suffering that incurs billions in medical cost. Two years ago, an American Cancer Society study said 20,000 West Virginia lives could be saved and $17 million in medical bills avoided yearly if the state would boost the cigarette tax by $1 and impose a statewide indoor ban. Also, the tax increase would give the state an extra $25 million revenue, the society estimated.
In a report titled "Seven States Where People Can't Quit Smoking," 24/7 Wall Street wrote:
"West Virginia wins the dubious first place in this list with an alarming smoking rate among adults of 26.8 percent. The state has none of the bans on indoor smoking that other states impose. It is even legal to smoke in child care centers. The state has the seventh-lowest cigarette tax in the country, at just 55 cents per pack."
Nationally, as America becomes more educated and health-aware, the smoking rate has dropped below 20 percent. Tobacco usage remains high among lower-income, less-educated people.
Law professor Richard Daynard of Northeastern University wrote this week that a 2009 federal health law gives the Food and Drug Administration power to force cigarette makers to lower nicotine content below the addiction level. If that happens, millions of Americans would cease being hooked, and smoking would fade.
We hope the Legislature raises the per-pack tax, and also imposes a statewide indoor ban. If it won't take these lifesaving steps, we hope the FDA delivers a death blow to America's worst drug addiction.