Penny of per-pack cigarette tax will go for cancer research
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- It's no secret that Kentuckians love their smokes, and that the habit has health consequences.
But health officials hope funds from a hike in the state's cigarette tax will help them better understand and treat cancer, which kills thousands of Kentuckians each year.
When the Kentucky tax on a pack of cigarettes goes from 3 cents to 30 cents on Wednesday, a penny of the increase will go to fund cancer research at Kentucky's two university hospitals.
The tax would raise $2.5 to $3 million annually, and about $5 to $6 million total after the universities raise matching funds, said state Sen. Tim Shaugnessy, who pushed for the cancer research fund.
Kentucky has the nation's highest adult smoking rate at nearly 31 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Until the pending increase, Kentucky's 3-cent per pack tax is the lowest in the nation.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 23,000 new cancer cases will be diagnosed in Kentucky this year, and the disease will kill more than 9,500 Kentuckians in 2005. The state has one of the highest rates of tobacco-related tumors and incidents of lung cancer in the country, said Donald Miller, director of the University of Louisville's James Graham Brown Cancer Center.
"We see so many families that have been impacted by lung cancer," Miller said.
Funds raised from the cigarette tax will be split between the Brown Cancer Center and the University of Kentucky's Lucille P. Markey Cancer Center.
The funds will also be used to get accreditation status from the National Cancer Institute, which would bring leading researchers and top-notch facilities.
"By becoming a hub for cancer treatment, cancer patients would not have to leave the state to get state-of-the-art treatment," said Shaugnessy, who lost his mother to cancer. "Cancer is a tough enough battle to fight. You at least should be able to fight it on your home court."
Some longtime smokers aren't standing in the way.
"I wish it would be more than a penny," said 34-year-old James McClure, who lives in Jeffersonville, Ind.
"I'd like to see 50 cents of it go to cancer research," said McClure, who has smoked for 22 years.
Patricia Devers, of Louisville, says she's smoked off and on for 20 years, and had even kicked the habit for six months. But then her husband got sick. Visiting him at the University of Louisville hospital, and smoking a cigarette outside, Devers thinks the penny from the cigarette tax isn't enough.
"Actually for something like that, it needs to be more. And from a smoker, that's pretty sad, but it needs to be more," said Devers, 36, who worries about getting cancer.
At Louisville's center the funds will be used to develop new treatments and recruit top doctors and scientists.
"One of our goals is to be included in the top ten cancer centers in the country," said Miller, of the Louisville center. "This kind of support will let us do that."
At Markey Cancer Center, the funds will conduct "high risk-high reward" programs that aren't easily funded by the government, said Dr. Alfred Cohen, the center's director.
New drugs and treatments will be tested, in the hopes of tackling all kinds of diseases caused by smoking, including lung, pancreatic and bladder cancers.
The funding will also build a "tobacco-related cancer program," expand biomedical research and keep the research facility on track toward achieving NCI designation.
With its cigarette excise tax, Kentucky will join the ranks of other states which have used part of a cigarette tax to fund cancer research.
For example, Oklahoma last year approved a 55-cent per pack increase on its cigarette tax to fight cancer, which claimed the life of two of its state senators in 2002 and 2003. A spokesman for Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry said the tax is projected to yield about $150 million annually for health programs, and part will be used to construct a cancer research and treatment center.
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