New Research Rekindles Cigarette Tax Debate
Remember that weekly allowance you had as a kid? With the spare change you got from a job or from your parents, you could buy the latest music, get some stylish new clothes or even go out to eat with your friends. Would you use the money to buy cigarettes
Anti-tobacco groups want state legislators to increase the cigarette tax so that smoking is too expensive of kids and teens.With 3,000 kids in the U.S. who become regular smokers each day, anti-tobacco groups want state legislators to up the cigarette tax so that smoking is soon out of the reach of kids and teens. All 50 states now impose such taxes, which range from 2.5 cents per pack in Virginia to a high of $1.11 per pack in New York.
Many states haven't raised taxes in years. Tennessee hasn't altered its 13 cents per pack rate since 1969 and Alabama has held steady at 16.5 cents since 1984. In Virginia, where Gov. James Gilmore is caught up in a budget feud with the Legislature over a campaigned-promised car tax cut, officials haven't looked at the tax since 1966. Anti-smoking advocates say a 50 cents per pack tax would rake in $309 million more in revenue in one year.
Tobacco manufacturers say that taxing the product is unfair to adults who choose to smoke. In addition, industry officials say there's no related reduction in youth smoking just because of a price increase.
"That's not to say price isn't a factor [in whether kids smoke], but it unfairly burdens adult smokers. The best way to combat youth smoking is to use a comprehensive approach, including media campaigns and school programs, that addresses the reasons why kids start to smoke," says Philip Morris spokesman Tom Ryan.
Researchers from the universities of Illinois and Michigan, however, say price does make a difference--and they're touting the first long-term study of the issue as solid proof. More specifically, results from an April 24 report show that a 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes will decrease the likelihood of an adolescent starting to smoke by up to 10 percent.
Illinois economics professor Frank Chaloupka, one of the study's authors, says while other analyses have shown a relationship between price and consumption, "this is the first to definitely show how raising cigarette prices will decrease youth smoking initiation.... The findings make clear that if you want to keep kids from smoking then raise excise taxes."
A number of states are pushing for cigarette tax increases in current sessions, including Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska and Washington.
In the New England states, a group known as the Alliance for a Healthy New England is pushing for an increase of at least 50 cents per pack in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont. The alliance--which includes officials from the American Cancer Society and the New England Council of State Medical Societies--wants revenues generated by the tax increase to go to tobacco control and health programs.
How successful has the effort been so far? Legislation is pending in five states and in Vermont, Gov. Howard Dean proposed a 67 cent tax increase, which would bring the state in line with New York at $1.11 per pack. "Having that kind of leadership in New England has made a big difference," says Lori Fresina of Smoke Free New England, one of the alliance partners.
Fresina says the group is in a unique position to raise taxes without putting other states in the region at an economic disadvantage. To the north, Canada already has higher tobacco taxes and to the west, New York's rate is 35 cents higher than the highest tax in New England.
Alliance members realize they can't get all the states to support the increase this year, given tight budgets and a serious education-funding crisis in New Hampshire. They have thus designed a three-year campaign and hope for starters they'll get tax increases in both Massachusetts and Vermont this year.
"Maine could do it as well. In Connecticut, which has one of the worst records on anti-smoking programs in the country, the public health committee took the lead on supporting the legislation and gave it a favorable report. Whether or not it passes remains to be seen," says Fresina.