Smoking in Missouri

(Jefferson City, Mo.) News Tribune

Last. Dead last.

That's where Missouri ranks nationally when it comes to funding programs to protect children from tobacco. So far the state has received $822 million in tobacco settlement money _ and not one penny has been spent on prevention programs.

... Missouri's smoking rate is the nation's third-highest, with more tobacco-using high school students _ 30.3 percent _ than adults smoking statewide, or 26.6 percent. More than 16,000 kids become regular smokers _ make that new addicts _ every year This alarming number cries out for aggressive prevention efforts. But it's not just clouds of cigarette smoke that have obscured the path to correction; it's hard to navigate through the smoke screen laid out by politicians.

The lions share of blame for the state's predicament goes to our elected leaders. ... Let's just say politicians are as addicted to money as smokers are to tobacco.

A new crop of tobacco companies joining the settlement will increase Missouri's share by $7 million next year. Last week, Attorney General Jay Nixon made a pitch for the new money to go strictly to tobacco prevention programs. ...

It's a terrific idea and a first step in the right direction. ...

Perhaps with a new governor and a fresh set of legislators, something can finally be done. ...

And let's go a step further. Missouri has one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the nation at 17 cents per pack. Radically increasing the tobacco taxes would have a multilevel effect: it would boost the money available for prevention efforts, make it cost prohibitive for kids to start smoking, or push more smokers to give up the habit. In any case, the state comes out a winner.

The alternative is to see more young people become addicted to tobacco. That means more lives will be lost to tobacco-related disease and taxpayers will face an ever higher cost of treating that disease.