West Virginia Youth Power Propels Tobacco-Free Day at State Capitol

February 24, 2012

Photo of 900 middle and high school students from West Virginia on the steps of the state capitol

What does people power look like?

It looks like 900 middle and high school students thronging the state capitol in Charleston, West Virginia on Tobacco-Free Day to tell lawmakers to do more to reduce smoking and prevent kids from starting.      

The students are members of Raze, a youth organization dedicated to fighting tobacco use in part by staging “commotions” — advocacy activities that make their voices heard loud and clear.   At the capitol, the youth created tributes to loved ones who died from tobacco use, and displayed some of them in the rotunda.

One of the most effective ways to reduce smoking — and save lives — is to raise cigarette taxes. West Virginia’s cigarette tax of just 55 cents a pack is one of the lowest country.  Not surprisingly, the state has some of the highest smoking rates: Nearly 27 percent of West Virginia adults smoke, compared with 19.3 percent nationally.  And almost 22 percent of West Virginia high school students smoke.

That can change if lawmakers pass a proposal to increase the cigarette tax by $1, and raise the tax on other tobacco products as well.  The tax bill also would create a health fund with $27 million of the revenue dedicated to tobacco prevention programs.

The Raze crowd raised a ruckus. Now legislators must act to protect kids from tobacco by raising the cigarette tax.