Tobacco taxes need to go up to encourage quitting

Saúl Berríos-Thomas | Layout Editor

I started smoking cigarettes when I was 11-years-old. I used to steal them from older people I was around. Then I started the tactic of asking people walking into stores to buy them for me. Many said no, but some did the deed and it was enough for me to get my fix. Then I found the store in my area who usually wouldn’t check ID’s.

I got kicked out of my first high school because once a week the dean of discipline would search me and every time, without fail, he found my pack of smokes. When I started playing baseball I started chewing tobacco too. Soon after, I was doing both and at an alarming rate.

I only vaguely understood the consequences of my actions. I knew that cancer could one day be a consequence, but it seemed like a far off possibility that didn’t affect teenage-me. To be fair, it should be said that I lived recklessly in many other areas of my life at this time, but tobacco was the one constant.

I am 23-years-old now, and I have been smoking for more than half my life. I have tried to quit at least five times. I have tried the pills, the patch, the gum and cold turkey, all to no avail. I know it isn’t easy to quit in general, but for me it has been especially hard because I have never actually wanted to quit. It may be causing me harm, but it’s a familiar pain that I use to cope with difficult situations. Also I have an extremely addictive personality. Anything that makes me feel good, I do that thing until it causes me so much pain that I am forced to quit. I am afraid of the consequences and I know it is very dumb to keep using tobacco, but that doesn’t mean I am going to stop.

I know I’m not alone in my addiction to nicotine. But the number of peers I have should be shrinking. I never want anyone around me to smoke. I know how bad it is and I would never wish that on anyone else. About 22,000 adults in Pennsylvania will die this year due to tobacco-related diseases, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Every one of those deaths can be prevented in the next generations.

The first step in preventing the next generation from starting the cycle is raising the state’s tobacco tax. As a consumer I will gladly pay more if it means that even one less person will get addicted. Also that money is vital to the community. Tobacco is one of the highest taxed products on the market. The money made from this can be used productively by the state to help the next generation with education and prevention.

Another step that can be taken to prevent the next generation from becoming addicted is to enforce the laws better. Kids should not be able to buy tobacco before the age of 18. Sending more police to enforce these laws may seem like a waste of resources now, but Pennsylvania spends $6.38 billion each year treating tobacco users, according to the Post-Gazette. The short term investment decreases the long term cost. Also the more this is enforced on the front end, the more it will become the norm for the youth to stop trying. Which means the stronger enforcement doesn’t have to be permanent.

A final step is one that has become popular abroad. In foreign countries like Australia and Brazil, photos of the health effects of tobacco use are printed on the package itself. Every time you look at the package you see a damaged lung or an operation on a human. This seems to be a deterrent to smoking especially for those at a young age who can still prevent this kind of damage to their bodies.

As for me, I still intend to quit. There may not be a definitive date yet, but it will happen at some point soon.

The most important thing is to stop the next generation from getting addicted the way I am. Support the state raising the tax and discourage people from smoking. The effects are real and the consequences are deadly.