Inquirer Editorial: Make them pay

What's good for the city's coffers could be good for the health of Philadelphia's teenagers, if the stiffer fines approved by City Council for illegal cigarette sales to minors help stem the deadly habit.

The impressive 15-0 vote Thursday in Council raised the fine for underage sales to $250 per infraction, up from $100.

The idea isn't necessarily to bring in more money to the city through higher fines, but to dissuade retailers from selling cigarettes to teenagers under 18 in the first place.

As detailed in an article Thursday, Philadelphia has a serious problem with youth smoking. Studies show it has the highest smoking rate among teens of any other similarly sized city.

That data goes hand in hand with reports from public-health officials that it's pretty easy in this town to get around the law that prohibits sales to minors. In many instances, all a teen has to do is walk up to the counter and ask for his or her favorite brand.

But if a corner store or another retailer feels a bigger bite by way of higher fines, the proprietors just might think twice about selling smokes to kids. That's the hope.

Another proven strategy for reducing smoking among teens is to keep jacking up cigarette taxes, since teens are the most price-sensitive when it comes to buying cigarettes. In Pennsylvania, it's also high time for the state to levy a tax on smokeless tobacco products and cigars.

The goal of raising taxes and retailer fines must be to keep teens from getting hooked early, so that they have enough time to get out of their teen years without acquiring a habit that's exceedingly hard to kick as an adult.

With 440,000 smokers dying every year, this is an industry that has to addict new customers to survive. Most smokers start in their teens, so the battle to keep cigarettes out of their hands is anything but child's play. It's a matter of life and death.