The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


March 2, 2014

Turning screws on smokers | Colorado, Utah, CVS praised for actions

JOHNSTOWN — Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And lawmakers in two western states are fired up to extinguish the smoke.

The Colorado and Utah legislatures have recently approved separate, initial measures to take away from 18- to 20-year-olds the right to purchase tobacco products.

The measures were influenced by the latest research on how many smokers started to light up when they were teens. And latest tobacco-related report by the Surgeon General notes that 90 percent of adult smokers started the habit when they were 18 or younger.

An underlying reason for the measures was to possibly reduce tobacco usage among adults.

“By raising the age limit, it puts them in a situation where they’re not going to pick it up until a much later age,” Marla Brannum of Lehi, Utah, said in a recent story by The Associated Press.

We commend the legislators for taking steps to keep cigarettes out of the hands of young people.

A similar movement in the United Kingdom was hailed as “a public health winner” by the director of tobacco studies at University College London.

And even Altria Group Inc., owner of cigarette giant Philip Morris USA, supports efforts to keep tobacco out of the hands of underage individuals.

The Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids believes that increasing the age at which someone could buy cigarettes may put a dent in tobacco-related deaths.

The Food and Drug Administration says tobacco is responsible for almost 500,000 deaths a year in the United States alone.

If the higher smoking age is adopted into law in Utah, it will join Alabama, Alaska and New Jersey as states requiring tobacco purchasers to be 21.

But CVS Caremark took the tobacco issue a step further than any state legislature has. The drug-store giant announced last month that it would halt all sales of tobacco products in its 7,600 stores by Oct. 1. CVS has admitted that its bottom line will take a $2 billion hit.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that cigarettes have no place in a setting where health care is being delivered,” CVS CEO Larry Merlo said when the nation’s second-largest drugstore chain announced its decision.

No truer words have been spoken.

Cigarette smokers face more and more hurdles as health officials push for a cigarette-free America:

-- Taxes have pushed the average price for a pack of cigarettes north of $5, more than three times what a pack cost 20 years ago.

-- Restaurants, bars and workplaces have hopped on the no-smoking bandwagon, banning cigarette smoking altogether or restricting it to designated areas.

Public health officials believe the move by CVS will tighten the screws on its competitors, such as Walgreen, Rite Aid and Walmart, to get out of the tobacco-selling business.

Every major movement begins with a first step. Utah, Colorado and CVS all have taken a first step, which we hope will turn into a groundswell of steps all marching to curtail cigarette smoking in the United States.

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