CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Incredibly, the World Health Organization says 5.4 million people around the planet suffer agonized early death each year because of tobacco smoking. Cigarettes are an international curse, the worst cause of unnecessary sickness and lost lifespan.
Tobacco firms are, in effect, drug pushers. Their profits depend on getting young people addicted to nicotine, a drug with a grip as powerful as that of heroin. As long as smokers are unable to break the addiction, tobacco profits roll in.
The latest New England Journal of Medicine says the world could avoid 200 million needless deaths by 2025 -- and also gain trillions in tax revenue -- if tobacco taxes were tripled worldwide, preventing millions of youths from becoming addicted.
Dr. Prabbat Jha, author of the new study, says France cut its tobacco consumption in half between 1990 and 2005 by imposing drastic tax increases. He commented:
"Death and taxes are inevitable, but they don't need to be in that order. A higher tax on tobacco is the single most effective intervention to lower smoking rates and to deter future smokers."
He added that the United States and Canada could reap $100 billion extra revenue each year if they merely doubled cigarette taxes.
Last year, U.N. countries set a global goal to curtail smoking by one-third by 2025 and reduce smoking-caused premature deaths by one-fourth. Sir Richard Peto, co-author of the study, observed:
"Young adult smokers will lose about a decade of life if they continue to smoke. They've so much to gain by stopping."
Meanwhile, a new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that anti-smoking efforts during the past half-century have saved 8 million Americans from early death and extended life expectancy more than five years.
Most American states have boosted taxes to prevent the young from becoming addicts. The U.S. average now is around $1.50 per pack. But West Virginia lags far behind, with just a 55-cent tax -- the nation's 44th lowest.
Each year, health reformers in the Legislature try to boost the state's cigarette tax, but high-paid tobacco lobbyists defeat this lifesaving attempt. As a result, West Virginia continues to have America's worst smoking rate -- an ugly distinction.
With the 2014 Legislature in full swing, conscientious senators and delegates who oppose unnecessary sickness and death among West Virginians -- and who see a need for extra revenue -- should rally behind an effort to help this state catch up with the rest of America.