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editorial - Morning Herald 12/20/00

December 21, 2000

Taxing smokeless tobacco to protect kids a good idea



West Virginia's legislative leaders have all but ruled out any tax increases in the 2001 legislative session, but that won't stop Mary Pearl Compton, who chairs the House Health and Human Resources Committee. Armed with a new study that shows children as young as fifth graders are using smokeless tobacco on a regular basis, Compton is determined to tax what she can't outlaw.

The study, done by Lynne Gobel of the Marshall University School of Medicine, found that while 90 percent of those young people who don't use smokeless tobacco know it's a health threat, only 75 of those who use it are aware that it's dangerous.

In addition, the study found that 7 percent of all children in the fifth grade used smokeless tobacco daily or monthly. For eighth graders, the percentage was 22 percent; for 11th graders, 32 percent. Ten percent of the students surveyed reported trying snuff or chewing tobacco as early as the first or second grade.

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Most users are males, the study found, who sometimes view a person's ability to chew tobacco without becoming nauseated as a sign of manhood. And because of tobacco's addictive nature, the numbers can't be shrugged off as youthful experimentation.

Nationwide figures show that 2,200 young people (11 to 19) try smokeless tobacco every day. Of those, 830 become regular users, subject to the same health risks - including cancer of the mouth - as those who smoke cigarettes.

Compton's proposal would impose a tax on smokeless tobacco, not currently taxed in West Virginia and use the proceeds for education and stop-use programs.

We agree with Compton's proposal. Research shows that when tobacco products become more expensive, many youngsters quit buying them. And because the state used tobacco-settlement money to balance last year's budget, little of that cash went to anti-tobacco programs. If it takes another tax to protect the children, so be it.

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