Anyone who read the recent article in the Portland Press Herald (“For youths in Maine, tobacco is a tough buy 8/27”) may think that Maine has found the pot of gold to making sure our kids don’t smoke. However, those of us who look closely at the data realize that even if we catch that elusive leprechaun or find the end of the rainbow, we have a lot more work to do.
Maine has done a fantastic job of making sure that retailers and their employees are trained to ask for ID when someone is buying tobacco and that there are repercussions if they don’t. We have fought back legislation (seemingly every year) that would weaken the tobacco enforcement laws that lead to this victory. This has been a collective effort of the Federal Government, the Attorney General, the Maine CDC and partners like the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association and the Maine Public Health Association.
Maine may be #1 (tied with Mississippi) as the most effective state in preventing kids from buying tobacco. However over 15% of Maine High School students still smoke. The kids are getting tobacco somehow. They are getting it from friends and family members because it is relatively cheap and readily available. The number one, evidence based way to discourage kids from not starting to smoke is to price them out. The tobacco industry will keep marketing to kids, keep inventing new products, keep undermining public health messages, but we CAN combat them at the cash register. Every other New England state has raised its tobacco tax since 2005 when Maine last raised ours. The time is now. If tobacco costs more, then adults try to quit in larger numbers, they smoke less and kids don’t start. It is a proven fact. Not a hopeful wish. So, if you are wishing on a fading rainbow or chasing leprechauns, don’t forget to wish for a day when our kids don’t smoke.
PS: That picture is from Harpswell in case you were curious.