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Punishing underaged kids for buying tobacco is wrong

In the desperate, never-ending effort to keep tobacco products out of the hands of young people, legislators seem to have lined up the wrong target in their sights.

The children themselves are in the crosshairs.

Come Monday, the Senate is scheduled to vote on a bill that would require minors to perform eight hours of community service for a first offensive, which is already implemented, in addition to a new $25 fine. For subsequent offenses, fines and community service requirements would increase for a maximum of a $100 fine and 24 hours of community service.

The bill would also increases fines for selling products to minors, levy fines against sales clerks and employers and make it a criminal offense for individuals to sell tobacco products to minors. But including children in mix seems a little odd.

As Sara Crickenberger, director of the American Lung Association of West Virginia, noted, "If retailers have some pretty decent fines, they will stop selling them."

After all, punishing the addict, rather than the supplier, has never made a whole lot of sense.

Children who use tobacco -- and adults, for that matter -- already know about the significant risks related to their habit. But if emphysema, mouth and lung cancer and death aren't strong enough deterrents to keep them from indulging, do our legislators really think a $25 fine is?

We don't think so. Making the product more difficult to obtain would seem to have more of an impact.

Point is, regardless of age, using tobacco is stupid. But if we do everything we can to stop young people from taking up the habit, maybe, just maybe, by the time they are old enough to buy tobacco products, they'll have enough common sense not to in the first place.

Today's editorial reflects the opinion of the Exponent editorial board, which is comprised of John G. Miller, James G. Logue, Kevin S. Courtney, Patrick M. Martin and J. Cecil Jarvis.

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