Four ideas have been floated in the state Legislature to reduce smoking rates in Maine, most of them well-intentioned but unlikely to pass.

The most controversial bill was crafted by Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Franklin County, that would deny benefits to MaineCare recipients who smoke.

Saviello proposed the bill at the behest of an unnamed constituent working in a rural health care clinic.

He said the woman is disturbed by MaineCare patients with respiratory illnesses who continue smoking while taxpayers pay their medical bills.

While we understand and share the woman’s frustration, this bill has no future, and the reason is simple.

Hospitals are obligated to treat everyone who shows up in need of care, whether they are smokers or not.

Denying those people MaineCare coverage would simply shift the cost of their care from the state to the hospitals.

The hospitals would then pass that unreimbursed cost on to Maine’s overburdened private insurance market.

Saviello’s bill would not only fail to save money, but would drive even more employers and individuals out of the private market.

A more straightforward bill, submitted by Rep. Les Fossel, R-Alna, would increase the minimum age for tobacco use from 18 to 21.

Fossel points to statistics showing that young people who avoid cigarettes until they are 21 are much less likely to become addicted at all.

It’s hard to argue with that logic but, again, we do not see this bill moving forward.

First, there’s the old but powerful argument that if people are old enough to fight for their country, they are old enough to adopt other legal adult habits, even bad ones.

Fossel’s bill also shares a weakness with another bill, submitted by Rep. Anna Blodgett, D-Augusta, which would ban smoking in private clubs, such as the Elks Club and American Legion.

Maine already bans smoking in public places, like restaurants. But private clubs have traditionally been allowed to write their own rules.

With a Republican governor and Legislature, both with strong libertarian leanings and opposed to “nanny state” legislation, banning smoking by 18-year-olds and for members of private clubs are each unlikely to pass.

Veterans are also a large and popular interest group in the state, that most politicians would choose not to offend.

The final bill is the most traditional, and arises in nearly every legislative session. It would raise Maine’s cigarette excise tax by $1.50 to $3.50 per pack.

Its backers argue that raising the price is the most effective way to keep young people from smoking.

This is proven by statistics from other states. What’s more, Maine currently has the second-lowest cigarette tax in New England.

While we have previously supported such increases, this bill will not get far.

Gov. Paul LePage has gone so far as to say he would reduce the cigarette tax if he could make up for the lost revenue.

The governor would veto this bill, even if it did by some miracle make it through the Legislature.

As the political ground has shifted, anti-smoking advocates will find a less receptive Legislature in Augusta.

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The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.


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