Voters lead the way

Published: Saturday, January 13, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 13, 2007 at 12:37 a.m.
The American Lung Association released its annual ranking of how states do in protecting the health of their residents. The ratings are made in four categories: smoke-free air, tobacco taxes, prevention funding and restrictions on youth access to tobacco products.
Florida did poorly in three of the four categories.
The state received a D on its efforts to restrict cigarette sales to minors, an F for having one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the nation, and an F for failing to properly fund smoking awareness and prevention programs.
The state did manage a B in one category, thanks to a voter initiative that made smoke-free workplaces a constitutional mandate.
The good news is that next year's report card will probably improve. That's because, in November, voters passed another amendment. This one requires the state to better fund anti-smoking education and awareness programs. Next year, the Legislature will be obliged to spend about $58 million on that mandate.
The Legislature could further discourage smoking, especially among young people, by raising the state cigarette tax to the national average of $1 a pack. It hasn't been raised in more than 15 years, and at 34 cents a pack it is among the lowest in the nation.
"Higher cigarette taxes mean significant drops in smoking rates," says John L. Kirkwood, CEO of the American Lung Association. "Studies show that a 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by 7 percent for youths and 4 percent for adults. Raising the cigarette tax is one of the most effective ways to reduce adult smoking and stop kids from ever starting."
Voters have led the way when it comes to smoking and health. This year, Gov. Charlie Crist and legislative leaders should take the initiative and increase the cigarette tax to $1 a pack.
Or will they leave it to the voters to make it three out of four?

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