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How to Reduce Underage Smoking - by Law Enforcement or a Cigarette Tax?

Regarding the editorial "A Breakthrough Against Smoking," Nov. 17: Those who claim that higher excise taxes will discourage underage smoking ignore the government's data. While cigarette prices in constant dollars increased by 40 percent between 1981 and 1988, smoking prevalence among high school seniors during the same period remained essentially unchanged.

According to a 1989 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report, smoking is most prevalent among high school seniors in the Northeast, even though cigarette prices there are among the highest in the nation. The GAO describes the current generation of teenagers as more likely to be "highly resistant" to price increases on cigarettes than earlier generations.

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How then, can anyone make the claim that higher excise taxes would significantly reduce youth smoking? The way to reduce underage smoking is by addressing peer pressure and enforcing state laws prohibiting the sale and distribution of cigarettes to minors. Thomas Lauria, Washington The Tobacco Institute

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please address them to "Readers Write," One Norway Street., Boston, MA 02115.

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