Anti-smoking groups urge cigarette tax hikes
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- While the National Governors Association meets in the nation's capital, anti-smoking groups are urging states to jack up their cigarette taxes.
The American Medical Association, the leading advocacy group for doctors, says that increasing taxes on cigarettes not only provides a revenue boost for state coffers but also brings a decrease in smoking. And over time, that decrease results in less cost for treatment of smoking-related illnesses.
"Higher cigarette taxes and higher prices that result from them induce some current smokers to quit smoking," said Frank Chaloupka, an economics professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago. "They keep some former smokers from restarting their addiction, they prevent kids from initiating smoking, and they reduce the number of cigarettes consumed by people who continue to smoke."
Chaloupka said that for every 10 percent increase in cigarette taxes, demand for cigarettes is reduced by about 4 percent. Half of that reduction, he said, comes from people who quit smoking.
The AMA's "Smokeless States National Tobacco Policy Initiative" also tells governors that it's not just good policy to raise cigarette taxes, it's also good politics.
"This is one tax that voters like," said Bill Corr, executive vice president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "Raising cigarette taxes is a win-win-win solution for state legislators and governors as they face challenges in the next few months. The evidence that voters support cigarette tax increases is clear and overwhelming. Last November, 65 percent of Washington state residents voted approval of a 60-cent increase in their tobacco tax."
Corr cited polls by Market Strategies, The Mellman Group, QEV Analytics, and the firm of Davis, Hibbitts and McCraig conducted in 15 states this year and last.
In the 12 states where extensive poll numbers are available, Corr cited these findings: "Majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents all favor increasing the state cigarette tax. Even significant numbers of smokers support cigarette tax increases. In Maryland, for example, 45 percent of current tobacco users support a 70-cent increase in the cigarette tax."
The tobacco companies see the increasing state levies on cigarettes as regressive and inequitable. John Singleton, director of public affairs for RJ Reynolds, said that in the past three years, some $88 billion has been taken in by the states through taxes and payments from legal settlements with the tobacco companies.
"Enough is enough," Singleton said. He cited a recent study which determined that some 58 percent of the taxes paid on cigarettes fall on people earning less than $35,000 per year.
Brendan McCormick of the Philip Morris Cos. echoed those comments, saying the states are "increasing the burden on low-income people" when they raise cigarette taxes. He added that many people go to neighboring states to buy cigarettes, a practice that can impact retail jobs.