As a lung cancer survivor who began smoking as a teenager because it was cool, I know the dangers of smoking first hand. I volunteer for the American Cancer Society as a recovery coach for lung and esophageal cancer patients. In addition, I work as a cancer registrar at MedStar Franklin Square Hospital and record tumor statistics for the many lung cancer diagnoses.
I was diagnosed at age 49 with lung cancer and had both the fright and fight of my life. Luckily, I'm still here and can enjoy my beautiful little grandson, although, because I also have COPD as a result of my smoking, I have trouble keeping up with him.
We've made a lot of progress against tobacco, but there is still work to do in Maryland. The General Assembly has the opportunity to raise the legal age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21. Maryland would be leading the way in protecting young people's lives by keeping cigarettes out of their hands, as 99 percent of smokers start before age 26.
Additionally, the majority of Maryland residents support a $1 increase in the state tobacco tax. According to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, a $1 tobacco tax increase would help more than 20,000 adults quit smoking, prevent more than 20,000 children from becoming smokers and raise more than $90 million in much-needed revenue for the state.
When the first surgeon general's report on tobacco was released 50 years ago, the U.S. adult smoking rate was 42 percent. Today, it's less than half that at about 18 percent. This success is due, in large part, to federal and state tobacco control laws that have been passed across the country — laws that have been proven to prevent kids from starting the deadly habit and to encourage adults to quit.
There are 742,000 smokers in Maryland. Tobacco is still the number one preventable cause of death, and if current trends in tobacco use continue, tobacco is expected to prematurely claim the lives of 92,000 Maryland youth under age 18.
Tobacco use causes more than 90 percent of all lung cancer cases and one third of all cancer deaths. This addictive, deadly product costs the state billions of dollars in tobacco-related health care costs annually.
Meanwhile, the tobacco industry continues to challenge every legislative victory in court, manipulate products to get around existing regulations, produce and promote new tobacco products and spend billions of dollars on marketing to deceive the public and to addict more kids.
It's time to finish what began in 1964 to reduce the burden of tobacco on our nation and in our state. We have to work with our legislators to make reducing the burden of tobacco in Maryland a priority. We need to adequately fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs, pass frequent and significant tobacco tax increases, and protect everyone's right to breathe smoke-free air. In this way, we will save countless lives from devastating, tobacco-related diseases like cancer.
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