As a Pennsylvania native, I was dismayed — but not surprised — by a story I read this week about a city in my home state.  According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia tops the list of cities with the worst teen smoking rates in the country.

I grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania, about an hour north of Philadelphia, and I can testify to the fact that in my hometown, even today, cigarette smoking is very much a part of popular culture. When I was 6 years old, I was buying cigarettes for my mom at the convenience store that was located right next to my elementary school. When I was 8 years old, I was buying them for myself.

Granted this was (ahem) years ago, but it was as illegal to sell cigarettes to minors then as it is today — And it was as common for stores in Pennsylvania to do it then as it is today.

According to the Inquirer story, 80 percent of stores that sell cigarettes in Philadelphia are located within two blocks of a school. Statistics compiled by the city found that there are 4,398 tobacco retailers in Philadelphia — that's 27 stores for every 1,000 children aged 10-17.  

Under the current regulations, merchants who sell illegally to people under the age of 18 are mailed a $100 ticket for the first, second, or even seventh violation. The result, officials say, is the highest rate of youth smoking among big cities for which comparable statistics are available.

With such leniency towards underage smoking, it's no wonder that Philadelphia also has one of the highest rates for adult smoking among big cities nationwide.

For the record, I quit smoking in 1998, which is about the time I moved out of Pennsylvania. Coincidence? Probably not.

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