How the Government Can Help Smokers

Smoking has been a major problem in the United States for decades, by contributing to major health problems that are costly to treat and mostly end in death. For this reason, the government has passed legislation regarding smoking in the form of restrictions, education, and taxation. While this is an acceptable plan of attack in the road to smoking cessation, I believe that more can be done. If the government focused more on prevention, taxpayers’ dollars would be better utilized.

In 1996, nearly two million people began smoking on a daily basis and a vast majority of them were under the age of eighteen. In the past, programs such as the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program have been the sole preventative agent in schools nationwide. The focus of D.A.R.E. however was not specific to just smoking and incorporated other drugs like alcohol and marijuana. Also, as D.A.R.E. grew in popularity, it became gimmicky and watered down. States have seen this inefficiency of the D.A.R.E. program and have begun implementing smoking specific prevention programs. In California, a counteradvertising program showed marked success. It focused on the misleading claims and “deceptive practices undertaken by tobacco firms” (Government Programs, 2004). The government intervened though, and the program became less effective when the state legislature slashed its advertising budget from sixteen million dollars in 1991 to just over six-and-a-half million dollars in 1995. In-school programs have shown much success through repetition and when administered in a serious environment. Again however, budgets and standardized test mandates have taken precedence over programs geared toward social and personal responsibilities.

Funding is always the major argument against the implementation of programs regardless of the evidence that supports them. Consider this though, tobacco use has been identified as “the foremost cause of cancer deaths” (Government Programs, 2004). That too costs money. It is expensive for those who have to pay higher insurance premiums because high incidence tobacco related cancers. Money is also wasted in subsidies made to hospitals that treat patients for tobacco related illnesses that do not have health coverage. If the government would reallocate these funds to schools and other preventative programs, the taxpayers’ dollars would be more responsibly spent.

There are ways to fund these programs that will not only continue in the prevention of new smokers, but will also reduce the number of current smokers reluctant to give up the habit. That solution is to raise the price of cigarettes by raising the excise taxes currently charged to the sale of tobacco products. This increase in taxes would result in an increase in revenue for states. The increased revenue could then be used to fund the programs that were previously mentioned. In addition, according to most economists, the increase in an excise tax would reduce the number of current smokers by four percent for every ten percent increase in cigarette prices. Taxation policies therefore could have dual benefits.

While the government has taken some measures to curb tobacco use, there is more that can be done. There are programs that aide in the prevention of smoking. They can be costly, but not as costly as the treatment of those who fall ill as a result of their cigarette use. Furthermore, through taxation, the government could adequately fund these programs and reduce the number of current smokers. It is time that our leaders see this issue for what it is and act accordingly in its eradication.

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