There are two ways to combat smoking as a public health problem. One is giving addicted smokers the support they need to quit, and the other — and less expensive — way is to stop people from picking up the habit in the first place.

Maine has had a good track record in both categories, but recent statistics show that it is starting to slip in the second. After more than a decade of declines, youth smoking in Maine is on the rise.

Preventing young people from smoking is a key battleground in combatting smoking, which costs taxpayers millions of dollars every year in the treatment of preventable health problems.

People who don’t start smoking in their teen years are much less likely to take it up later in life. Once they are hooked on tobacco, quitting can be a much more difficult struggle. New smokers can become smokers for life.

There are many ways to fight teen smoking, including education and advertising campaigns. But the most effective strategy is increasing the price of a pack of smokes.

The state has the means to make cigarettes more expensive, possibly putting them out of the reach of vulnerable young people. The method is raising the cigarette tax, and it is past time for Maine to do it again.

Maine last increased its cigarette tax to $2 a pack in 2005. At the time, it had the highest in New England. Now it has the second lowest (after New Hampshire).

Increasing the tax would not likely have much effect on hard-core smokers, and some policymakers have expressed concern that low-income smokers would sacrifice food and other necessities to pay for their cigarettes.

That is a worthwhile concern, but those people would be better served with improved smoking cessation programs than with more affordable cigarettes. Quitting would be even easier on their household budgets.

We are not generally supportive of increasing taxes, but we are persuaded by solid evidence that higher tobacco taxes will prevent young people from starting to smoke, and that would return a solid value to the state.

Republican legislators and Gov. LePage should reconsider their positions and pass this increase as a matter of public health.