September 2, 2013

Letters to the editor: Help break bad habit – raise tobacco tax

The state of Maine should be proud that its efforts to curb youth tobacco use by cracking down on illegal underage sales are working ("For Maine youths, tobacco is tough buy," Aug. 27). 

click image to enlarge

A letter writer says lawmakers are missing an opportunity to discourage kids from starting to smoke and to encourage more smokers to think about quitting.

2013 Press Herald File Photo/Carl D. Walsh

The fact that the state tied for first in the country at keeping youths from illegally purchasing tobacco is evidence that enforcing tobacco laws continues to be something that Mainers care about and embrace. 

While it's true that Maine's youth smoking rate is lower than that of many of our neighbors, we mustn't make the mistake of thinking that our job is done. Maine's adult smoking rate is higher than the nationwide average, and our progress on reducing the youth smoking rate has stalled in recent years.

We need to take action to move the needle down on both youth and adult smoking rates. Only then can we rest in knowing that we've done all we can to prevent the premature death and disease caused by tobacco use.

Maine can start by increasing the state cigarette tax, which hasn't been raised since 2007. The state earned a C this year in the Lung Association's State of Tobacco Control Report 2013 for its less-than-stellar level of taxation on cigarettes.

We know that as we increase the price of tobacco, fewer kids start smoking and more smokers make the decision to quit. With so many lives at stake, what are decision-makers waiting for? 

Jeff Seyler

president and CEO, American Lung Association of the Northeast

Augusta

Running out of options for affordable health care

I couldn't have been more shocked when I discovered, just recently, that thanks to our governor and his political antics, I will not be eligible for benefits under the Affordable Care Act.

Apparently, with an annual income of $8,000 and two children to support, I'm just too well off (and that doesn't even count the money in the sofa cushions).

I realize that appealing to the governor's conscience is a fool's frustration, but what of the people of Maine? Is it their intention to react to Obamacare in the manner that the states of the former Confederacy have? To allow a bully to determine who'll be treated like a human being and who won't?

I spoke with a sweet woman at the Department of Health and Human Services, who apologized for Mr. LePage and noted that her benefits were also being truncated.

"They've got us right where they want us. The train wreck is coming, but we've been told to let it happen," she said. "Five legislators turned their backs on us, and we're getting asked a lot of questions we can't answer."

I used to think living in America was some sort of blessing, but lately, I've been looking for a way out.

Canada wants me to provide proof that I have at least $30,000 in my bank account before I'll be welcomed in, and I don't think I dare try Sweden after seeing the furniture at Ikea.

So if I get sick, I guess I'll go to the hospital. And run up a bill. And not pay it. Like the governor wants.

The thing that worries me the most is that any country that needs me as its moral voice is in a lot of trouble. Guess I'll go take my vitamins. An ounce of prevention is all I've got right now.

Douglas Antreassian

Brunswick

City full of helping hands for visitors who lost wallet

I owe a big "thank you" to the city of Portland. We visited one recent weekend, celebrating a wedding anniversary. Portland was jammed -- we put our trip off a week because there were no rooms. We arrived on an evening train, and stumbled into the first cab that pulled up in front of the Amtrak station.

My husband chatted with the cabbie, heard he was from Sudan, was an independent, had been working a few months. At our hotel, I tucked his card into my wallet with the change.

In our room, I realized I'd dropped my wallet in the cab. Little money involved, but all my ID and credit cards.

An independent driver who'd worked less than a year wasn't going to be in the phone book. I called the police, and a very patient officer read me, kid you not, 25 phone numbers. Thank you!

We started calling. The person who answered for one of the big companies (thank you!) told us he was at the Amtrak station, there were some Sudanese drivers working and that he was coming to take us there so we could describe our driver to them.

Back at the station, we met two drivers, told them everything we remembered -- how long our gent had been in the U.S., how many kids he had, the color of his car and the first letter on the door. Within two phone calls, they had him. Thank you!

He came back from downtown, and handed me my wallet with everything in it. Thank you again!

We got calls back from other cab companies asking if we'd gotten the wallet back. Thank you!

What an example of the power of community. We were strangers, and you welcomed us.

Mary Hopkins and Herberht Galdamez

Everett, Mass.

Find new place for those not guilty due to 'insanity'

I have been involved for well over two decades in pushing for reform in how we handle individuals committed by the court after being found "not guilty by reason of insanity" for serious crimes such as murder, kidnapping, rape and assault.

During that time, the Augusta Mental Health Institute (now Riverview Psychiatric Center) housed many of these dangerous individuals, and we have seen serious attacks on hospital employees and the murder of a young citizen in Augusta.

We should not expect hospital employees to risk their lives dealing with these dangerous individuals. In the time it takes to call for outside help, a mental health worker or citizen can be killed.

In 1986, I learned that the state mental hospital's forensic unit had been at the state prison in Thomaston until 1906. At that time, the unit was moved to what was then Augusta State Hospital, largely because the roads were so bad that psychiatrists could not readily travel to treat these individuals at Thomaston.

To ensure the safety of our dedicated mental health workers and all Mainers, we need to move these violent individuals back to the Maine State Prison where they belong.

The time has come for a common-sense solution to this serious problem.

David H. Crockett

Augusta

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