Commentary: S.C. needs to get serious about smoking

This editorial appeared in The State.

Dead last. Again. By nearly any measure, South Carolina drags the bottom when it comes to combating the scourge of smoking. Our laws to protect non-smokers are inadequate (though improving), our tax is embarrassingly low (no improvement there — in decades), our smoking rates are high, and now the annual report from a national coalition of public health groups finds that, once again, we’re doing the worst job in the nation of providing programs designed to keep people from starting to smoke or to help them stop once they start. And what little we do is funded with federal money; we’re the only state in the nation that isn’t spending a penny of state tax money on prevention.

The main reason legislators don’t put any effort — or dollars — into keeping kids from smoking is the same reason they maintain our lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax: They just don’t consider it that important.

Never mind that more kids start smoking every day, ignorantly volunteering for a life sentence of addiction, illness and early death. Never mind that the taxpayers invariably end up paying some or all of the bill for the addicts’ medical care. Never mind that there are proven, effective prevention programs that cost exponentially less than those medical bills.

Ah, but it will be years before we reap the financial rewards of prevention, because the carcinogens packed inside the nicotine-enhanced delivery system don’t poison their victims immediately. By then the politicians who are making state policy today will be long gone. Someone else’s problem.

To read the complete editorial, visit The State.