Tax hike could cut into teen smoking
If legislators approve the 50-cent increase in cigarette taxes Gov. George Ryan has proposed, anti-smoking activists say one of the benefits will be a dramatic reduction in youth smoking--even if the youths themselves have their doubts.
According to research released by the Illinois Coalition Against Tobacco, the price jump would discourage some 65,000 Illinois youths from becoming smokers, with overall cigarette consumption reduced statewide by 47 million packs.
These projections are based in large part on studies by University of Illinois economist Frank Chaloupka, who has specialized in the effects of price and cigarette taxes on youth smoking practices. The research found that for every 10 percent increase in price, youth smoking rates gradually decline by 6.5 percent.
"Time after time, studies have shown that when the price goes up, the use goes down, especially among youth," said Annie Tegan, director of health policy for the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago. "A teen on the street may not say that an extra 50 cents will make them quit. But teens are realizing that $4 is a lot of money for a pack of cigarettes, especially when they add up how much they could buy over the year with that money."
Students interviewed this week at Elmhurst's York High School, however, said they doubted a higher tax would cause any dramatic drop.
They said students won't feel as big a pinch because few teens buy more than a pack at a time. And if they don't have the money, they said students will just share packs, dip into their parents' stash or even steal them from stores.
"I don't think 50 cents is going to discourage anyone from smoking," said Dan Edwards, a 16-year-old sophomore. "They have a lot of ways of not buying a whole pack. They'll bum them or they'll steal them."
Freshman Kendra Hudson, 15, said her dad has vowed to quit smoking if the price of cigarettes gets any higher, but she hasn't heard the same vow from any of her peers. "It is expensive, and teenagers don't have that much money, but I don't think it will matter. They will still want cigarettes," she said.
In a speech Monday to lawmakers, Ryan called for raising cigarette taxes by 50 cents a pack, boosting the overall state levy to $1.08 and raising an extra $285 million. Senate Republicans quickly said they hoped to cut the size of that increase.
The projections on teen smoking come shortly after a national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed this month that smoking among high school students has dropped to its lowest level in a decade--a decrease credited to both steep cigarette tax increases and educational programs that are discouraging youths from lighting up.
About 28 percent of high school students nationally said they had smoked tobacco in the past month--down from 36 percent five years ago. A study in Illinois saw a similar drop. According to the Illinois Youth Survey, which surveyed 8th, 10th and 12th graders, students who reported smoking in the past month dropped from 28 percent to 24 percent from 1998 to 2000.
Cathy Cratty, director of student assistant programs for Deerfield and Highland Park High Schools, said she's not surprised that students might discount the impact of the new tax. But she also has no doubt that it will reduce smoking over the long run, especially for casual smokers who quit before they become addicted.
"I think it's a great thing to do, and I think it would absolutely deter kids," Cratty said. "I do hear kids talking about it being an expensive habit. Maybe for some, they couldn't smoke as much. Some might never start. We need to discourage it in as many ways as possible."