Go ahead, tax cigarettes

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By Marion Bowman

A few evenings ago, some friends and I were discussing our state budget and the problem our governor has in trying to balance it and satisfy all factions. Yesterday's state newspaper, though, had the gratifying news that he was doubtful of the success of his pet plan of casino gambling. In fact, the news went so far as to suggest he was looking favorably at increasing cigarette taxes as a last resort.

These two tidbits of information are the best news in months. Despite the positive spin and glowing predictions that more gambling is just what the doctor ordered to fix our ailing revenue flow, it is doubtful that voters would pass the constitutional change required to allow a referendum on gambling.

Now it really appears that we will have to be satisfied with traveling to neighboring states to risk our really big bucks. Of course, we'll still have our horses, lotteries and bingo where we can pay our ignorance taxes in smaller increments.

The tax increase on cigarettes is long overdue. There's no doubt that an extra dollar per pack will deter many young folks from using the "evil weed" and taking up the habit. The die-hard smokers will gladly pay the increased tax before they kick the habit, which will more than make up for any loss of revenue from the younger set.

But the greatest advantage of higher cigarette taxes and decreased tobacco use is health-wise.

I recall my mother's warnings when I was a youngster and beginning to smoke. She told me that it would "stunt my growth" and she was right. Here I am nearing 80 and still stand only 5'6". The real result of my smoking, though, is the beginnings of COPD, which will only add to the more than $400 million per year Medicaid costs Kentuckians spend on smoking-related diseases.

Tobacco is not the sacred cow it was years ago. Though it fed and clothed many of us and provided us some luxuries, in just a few decades it has fallen into disrepute. Meanwhile, Kentucky has suffered most of the ills; from the highest rates of cancer to heart disease, asthma and other smoking-related illnesses. It also has the highest number of smokers and one of the nation's lowest tobacco taxes. Can you see the connection? I suggest we at least double the 70-cent increase that's been proposed.

Marion Bowman