It all started innocently. Marlene Haynes just wanted to fit in with a group of kids when she was 11 years old. So she took the cigarette offered to her by the preacher’s son behind her church. A puff here, a shared drag there, and within a year, she was hooked.
Little did Marlene know at the time her tobacco addiction would become the unwanted focus of the rest of her life – causing her to struggle with cancer four times, endure countless painful chemo and radiation treatments, have several complicated surgeries, and literally lose her ability to speak.
Unfortunately, Marlene’s story is one of many. Every year, about 3,000 children become smokers, according to Kansans for a Healthy Future (K4HF), an organization supported by the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society Action Network, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and the Kansas Health Foundation.
Currently, Kansas lawmakers are considering bills that would increase the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products. According to K4HF, raising the cigarette tax $1.50 will reduce the number of Kansas children who smoke by 20 percent. That is 26,800 Kansas kids who will never experience the devastating personal toll of tobacco.
Stories like Marlene’s and many other Kansas children are why the Kansas Health Foundation has made tobacco prevention one of its focus areas.
To encourage lawmakers to support the bills, Jeff Willett, KHF Vice President for Programs, submitted testimony earlier this month. Increasing the tax on cigarettes, he wrote, will help ensure children grow up tobacco free and can live their lives to their full potential.
“Dramatically reducing youth smoking will benefit the entire generation of children alive today by reducing future health care costs,” Willett wrote. “This action will make Kansas a healthier, more economically vibrant state.”
While it’s alarming to know that smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in Kansas, costing the state nearly $1 billion every year in avoidable health care costs, that can be changed. In addition to reducing the number of children who start smoking, raising the cigarette tax will impact adults and nearly 25,000 adult smokers will quit. We know most smokers want to quit, and the state of Kansas has support available to help.
“We have several impactful personal tobacco stories on k4hf.org that make you stop and think,” said Angie Henderson, K4HF communications manager. “Each person has their own unique story to tell. Yet a common thread is people start smoking when they are young – not realizing their addiction ends up controlling their lives. That’s why we want to stop kids from trying cigarettes in the first place.”
To continue the efforts to support healthy living among Kansans, KHF provides grant funding to many nonprofit organizations. In 2014, KHF approved a $200,000 grant for the American Heart Association to work on reducing tobacco use in Kansas by building support for increasing taxes on tobacco products and increasing funding for the state tobacco control program.
The Kansas Health Foundation wants Kansas to be the healthiest, most productive, most livable state in the nation. For that to happen, Kansas children should never start using tobacco and adult smokers should have access to cessation resources.
Unfortunately, we are not headed in the right direction. In 1991, Kansas had the 8th lowest adult smoking rate in the nation. Today, that ranking has dropped all the way to 31st. Kansas can do better.
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