Higher Tax on Alcohol, Smokes Will Save Teens

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), February 21, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Higher Tax on Alcohol, Smokes Will Save Teens


Byline: ANTHONY BIGLAN, EDWARD LICHTENSTEIN and HERBERT H. SEVERSON For The Register-Guard

THE OREGON LEGISLATURE will miss a golden opportunity if it does not increase the taxes on tobacco and alcohol. Additional taxes will not only generate much-needed dollars for the state but also will make significant contributions to public health - especially the health of Oregon's young people.

Cigarette smoking is the No. 1 preventable cause of disease and death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 people every year. More than 80 percent of all smokers begin smoking before the age of 18, which is the legal age of purchase in the United States. Of the 3,000 people a day who start smoking, about 1,000 will eventually die of a smoking-related illness. If we can prevent young people from starting to smoke, we will save many lives.

Raising the price of cigarettes appears to be the single most effective thing we can do to reduce smoking among teen-agers. The 1994 Surgeon General's Report on Preventing Tobacco Use Among Young People concluded that price increases are especially effective in reducing youth smoking. Subsequent studies have confirmed this finding and attribute this in part to teens having less discretionary money to spend than adults.

A 50-cent increase in the price of cigarettes would prevent an estimated 14,700 children and adolescents who currently live in Oregon from taking up smoking. Additionally, an added 50-cent tax would raise an estimated $107 million.egon to Washington

Teen-age alcohol use is also a major public health problem. According to the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse, 29.7 percent of 12th-graders, 24.9 percent of 10th-graders, and 13.2 percent of eighth-graders reported consuming five or more drinks in a row at least once in the two weeks prior to the survey. Girls in high school now consume alcohol at the same rate as boys.

Such patterns of binge drinking are a major cause of alcohol-related car crashes and contribute substantially to interpersonal violence. Teen-age binge drinkers are also at much greater risk of becoming alcoholics. If we can reduce teen alcohol consumption, and especially binge drinking, we can prevent premature death and many ruined lives.

Here too, a tax would be beneficial. Numerous studies have shown that increasing the price of beer reduces use among adolescents.

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