Rick Bender sat on a stage at the Ohio Statehouse fiddling with a chewing tobacco can as people stared at his disfigured face.
Bender is used to it. He does this kind of thing on purpose.
For the last 17 years, Bender has traveled the country, warning people of the dangers of tobacco use. Bender grew up in Kentucky and California and started using chewing tobacco at age 12. By age 26 in 1989, doctors diagnosed him with oral cancer, took out a third of his tongue and half his jaw, and told him he had two years to live.
Bender joined anti-tobacco groups on Wednesday, March 17, in urging Ohio lawmakers to double the state cigarette tax to $2.50 per pack and boost taxes on smokeless products such as chewing tobacco and then dedicating the increased revenues for smoking prevention programs.
“Our young people are hungry for information out there, gang,” Bender told supporters.
Beverly May, regional advocacy director for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, said tobacco companies are marketing chewing tobacco and other smokeless products in candy-type packaging and fruity flavors that appeal to children.
The tobacco industry has consistently said its products are pitched exclusively for adults, not children.
Higher tobacco taxes would generate more than $340 million a year and would lead to fewer youths smoking and would cause 66,100 adults to quit, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
Shelly Kiser of the American Lung Association in Ohio said anti-tobacco groups are still searching for a legislator willing to sponsor a bill increasing the tobacco taxes.
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