Executives for the tobacco companies like to say that they don't encourage youngsters to smoke. But they don't seem to protest very intensely. According to Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, three-quarters of those who become daily smokers have acquired the habit by the age of 18. Indeed, the average smoker took his or her first puff at age 14. If kids can remain non-smokers through high school, Dr. Elders says, they're likely never to pick up the habit.
These facts should point out one sure-fire route to a smoke-free society: Enforce the law that prohibits minors under 18 from buying cigarettes. Cigarettes should be treated like liquor. If there's any question or any doubt, the person making the purchase should have to show identification, such as a driver's license. The casual disregard for the law, evidenced by many cashiers in convenience stores and gas stations, cannot be tolerated. Because the legality or illegality of sales can't be monitored, cigarette vending machines should also be banned.
Unfortunately, a bill in the Missouri Legislature that would have put teeth into an enforcement effort failed. …