Anti-Tobacco Study Targets Pregnant Women
(CNSNews.com) - A new study says that taxing cigarettes helps pregnant women kick the habit, but some tax experts say it's not that simple.
Every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes will reduce smoking among pregnant women by 7 percent, according to a study published in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
The study's authors believe that pregnant women are already motivated to quit, so they are more easily deterred by higher cigarette prices than other smokers.
The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids took the opportunity to urge state leaders and Washington state voters to react to the study by increasing the state's cigarette excise tax.
Washington voters on election day will decide whether to raise the state's cigarette tax by 60 cents a pack to $1.425 and impose a 54.5 percent surtax on other tobacco products.
"At a time when many states are looking at budget shortfalls, increasing the cigarette tax provides a win-win solution," said William V. Corr, executive vice president of the Campaign.
"States considering cigarette tax hikes should recognize the immediate benefit of such a policy in reducing the incidence of low-birth-weight babies and other health problems caused by maternal smoking," said Corr.
William Ahern, a spokesman for the Tax Foundation, believes such tax-it strategies backfire.
"Not all social problems have easy answers," said Ahern. "They would like to think, 'we'll just raise taxes; that's easy. Then we'll solve the problem.'
"It's well known when you tax something you get less of it," he said. "At first glance, it would seem that a higher tax would be effective. But in Europe, where taxes on cigarettes are much higher than they are here, they have a much higher smoking incidence.
"Smoking is resistant to tax solutions," said Ahern, "especially at the state level where you have the cross border problem.
"In fact, there is such a robust cigarette smuggling industry in the U.S. that recently members of Hizbollah were apprehended in Maryland on their way from Carolina to New York with a truckload of cigarettes," he said, an effort that can yield $200,000 in profits from one truckload of cigarettes.
Ahern and other tax experts also note that tobacco taxes fall disproportionately on low-income workers, who are predominant users of tobacco products and spur a black market for cigarette smuggling into high tax states.
Still, he says, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids has nothing to lose in supporting a higher tobacco tax.
"I suspect that they will try anything to lower smoking levels," said Ahern. "Even if a 10 percent hike in taxes lowered smoking .001 percent, I think they would advocate that tax.
"But I think the 10 percent/7 percent [ratio] is grossly exaggerated," he added.
Proponents of the Washington state tax increase estimate that the tax would raise $219 million in the next 18 months and $270 million between 2003-05.
The list of tax proponents include the American Heart and Lung Associations, American Cancer Society, state PTA, AARP, Washington Association of Churches, League of Women Voters and the Academy of Family Physicians. Tax opponents include tobacco companies, grocers and neighborhood stores, and two former state budget chairmen.
Current tobacco excise tax rates range from 2.5 cents in Virginia to $1.11 per pack in New York.