More States Consider Raising Levies on Cigarettes
More than 12 states are considering raising cigarette taxes as a way to raise revenue and "discourage smoking," USA Today reports. Several states are debating whether to follow Washington state, where a 60-cent increase in the state's cigarette tax took effect Jan. 1, pushing the levy to $1.425 per pack, the highest in the nation. In addition, the federal tobacco tax went up five cents, to 39 cents per pack, beginning Jan. 1. Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon (D) said raising cigarette taxes is "a win-win situation. Teenagers are less likely to start, and adult smokers are more likely to quit ... so there is clearly a health benefit." O'Bannon added that "the tax revenue will help [states] weather the recession." Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said that the concept of raising the tax could become a trend. "We count at least 17 states where they have been at least discussing whether to increase the tax, and I wouldn't be surprised to see more. One of the reasons the tax is so popular is that 75% of the people (non-smokers) don't pay it," Myers said.
USA Today reports that "smoking opponents are delighted" with the idea. Robert Jaffe, a physician in Seattle and an anti-smoking activist, said that with the new taxes, coupled with the national tobacco settlement, anti-smoking activists "are making great progress" toward "financing programs that will curb smoking and save lives." In Washington, for example, $1.01 of the $1.425 tax will go toward "basic health programs," according to the Washington Department of Revenue. The higher tax received "overwhelming" support in Washington, even among some smokers, USA Today reports. Political consultant Frank Greer said, "[P]olling showed surprising support from smokers. Most of them would like to quit."
But raising cigarette taxes has elicited complaints and made many smokers "furious," USA Today reports. Opponents of the taxes say it is a "poor way to finance state health programs" and "wrong to make only smokers pay the bill." Philip Morris spokesperson Brendan McCormick said, "We don't think it's fair to single out smokers to pay for things that will benefit everyone." According to John Singleton, public affairs director for R.J. Reynolds, the taxes "disproportionately affect low- and moderate-income people." Singleton adds that the higher taxes may "spur more smokers to evade taxes by buying cigarettes on the Internet, at Indian reservations and in neighboring states with lower rates." Tobacco companies "vow a state-by-state battle" against possible increases in cigarette taxes, according to USA Today. Singleton said, "It's going to be a busy year for us, especially with the deficits" (McMahon, USA Today, 1/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.