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A contentious Farm Bill heads to U.S. House for debate. Also on our rundown: gaps cited in protections for small-business employees and nonprofit volunteers; plus some warning signs, that increased youth activism may not correspond to voter turnout.

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Time is Short as Ohio Lawmakers Consider Cigarette Tax Increase

PHOTO: Anti-tobacco groups and activists say increasing the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1 would go a long way toward reducing the number of Ohio smokers, and save tens of thousands of lives per year. Photo credit: Dodgerton Skillhause/Morguefile.
PHOTO: Anti-tobacco groups and activists say increasing the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1 would go a long way toward reducing the number of Ohio smokers, and save tens of thousands of lives per year. Photo credit: Dodgerton Skillhause/Morguefile.
May 21, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Anti-tobacco groups say time is running out to address Ohio's smoking epidemic.

At more than 23 percent, Ohio's smoking rate is the eighth highest in the nation, according to the American Lung Association. Each year more than 20,000 people die because of their own smoking.

It's a statistic Lily Berry of Upper Arlington knows too well. After 40 years of smoking up to three packs a day, her father, Kevin, developed severe emphysema and died in 2011 at the age of 58.

"The milestones that I don't get to experience with him, like graduating last week from Ohio State. My dad wasn't there to congratulate me," says Berry. "It doesn't just hurt the smoker. Tobacco has taken away many experiences that I would've had with my father and I can't now."

On Wednesday, Berry and other tobacco-prevention advocates shared their stories with senators who heard testimony related to the governor's proposal in the budget to increase the cigarette tax by $1 per pack, and increase the tax on other tobacco products by an equivalent amount. Ohio's two-year budget needs to be finalized by the end of June.

Berry says her father tried repeatedly to quit smoking, but his efforts were never successful. She says that's why prevention efforts are so crucial to keep other families from experiencing the suffering her family has endured.

"Just a simple increase in taxes on cigarettes could prevent another kid from starting, and stopping is obviously the hardest part of it," she says. "Just doing anything to prevent the next generation from starting would make a huge difference."

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids estimate the proposed cigarette tax increase would prompt more than 73,000 current adult smokers in Ohio to quit, and reduce the youth smoking rate by 12 percent.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH