www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/readersrespond/bs-ed-tobacco-tax-20120203,0,2493933.story

baltimoresun.com

Don't tax tobacco, just raise the legal age for buying it

8:15 AM EST, February 3, 2012

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Your recent editorial claims that "raising tobacco prices has proven to be an effective way to stop people from picking up the habit" ("The 'other' tobacco tax," Jan. 19). However, the surest, most effective path to slashing the number of new smokers would be to raise the legal tobacco age to 21, thereby imposing three more years of maturity before allowing young people to purchase tobacco legally.

For wide acceptability of a 21-year legal limit, the following elements are necessary: First, the change would have a one-year lead time and then rise in three one-year intervals (thus not "trapping" a previously-legal, 18-to-20-year-old tobacco user into sudden illegality).

Second, active-duty military personnel would be exempt — although the military may well decide to raise the age at which servicemen and women could legally smoke on its own.

Third, any penalties for underage tobacco possession shouldn't be too severe. A small fine, attendance at a tobacco education class or simply confiscation of the tobacco.

The "libertarian" arguments for maintaining the current young legal tobacco age ignore the fact that virtually all adult smokers profoundly regret having taken up the habit, many of them as teens. if they'd had to wait until they were 21 perhaps many of them would have been able to avoid it.

Frederick N. Mattis, Annapolis