U.S. mulling $2-a-pack tax on cigarettes
WASHINGTON, Feb 19 (Reuters) - U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said on Wednesday he was considering the possibility of raising the federal cigarette tax to $2 a pack -- from the current 39 cents -- as recommended by an advisory com
Last week, the HHS' Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health approved a plan for the steep increase in the tax. Half the money raised would be allocated for initiatives to help people stop smoking.
Anti-tobacco campaigners immediately welcomed the decision and pressured the government to accept.
"We urge the administration and Congress to act quickly and aggressively to implement this plan," William Carr, executive vice president at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement.
"If they do so, it would represent an unprecedented national commitment to address the leading preventable cause of death and disease in our country. The committee estimates its plan would prevent three million premature deaths and help five million smokers to quit."
Health experts say smoking is the biggest single cause of preventable death, killing 400,000 people every year from heart disease and cancer.
Thompson said Surgeon General Richard Carmona, who chaired the committee, was coming up with a recommendation for him.
"I haven't made a decision on the tax but I like the concept of a fund," Thompson told reporters. "I think the general premise of setting up some sort of fund to give dollars back to people who want to quit smoking is good."
Thompson said 70 percent of smokers wanted to quit but could not get the support, including drugs, to do so.
He said he raised cigarette taxes while governor of Wisconsin, but added the issue of a tax was problematic politically.
Several studies have shown that raising the price of cigarettes can deter smokers, especially teen-agers.
In 1998, states reached a settlement with tobacco companies in which they received $246 billion over 25 years to pay for the costs of smoking-related illnesses.
Anti-smoking campaigners say states have recently been raiding those and other tobacco-prevention funds to cover budget deficits.
On Tuesday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty suggested eliminating the state's youth tobacco prevention fund, using the cash to cover the state's budget deficit.