Revenue from tobacco tax increases fails to reach preventative programs

By Calvin Palmer

Fourteen states, the nation’s capital and the federal government hiked their cigarette taxes last year, but health officials say none the money went into programs to help people to quit.

“None of the 15 states dedicated any of the new excise tax revenue by statute to tobacco control,” lead author Karen Debrot of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, causing nearly one in five deaths per year, according to the CDC.

Preventable death somehow seems to skirt round the fact that everyone – yes even non-smoking health and fitness addicts – has to die at some point. Death is inescapable.

Old age for some is a soul-destroying prison and death, when it comes, is a welcome relief. It may come as surprise for the holier-than-thou health fascists but not everyone can look forward to being comfortably well off when they get past retirement. They also have little understanding of how a cigarette can relieve relentless boredom. In their Disney-inspired fantasy world, poor and inadequate people do not exist and, if they do, it is entirely their own fault.

State increases ranged from 10 cents per pack in North Carolina to $1 in Connecticut, Florida and Rhode Island.

Raising the price of cigarettes is one of the most effective ways to discourage people from smoking, and seems to have a particularly large impact on teens, according to the CDC, which sees cigarette taxes as a key step to try to drive down the U.S. adult smoking rate.

The adult smoking rate has stalled at around 21 percent since 2004.

Cigarette excise taxes were raised last year in the District of Columbia and 14 states — Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Those kinds of increases occur from time to time, often when state budgets are suffering.

Last year, the average increase was 52 cents per pack, bringing the average state excise tax to $1.34 per pack. The federal government also pushed its excise cigarette tax from 39 cents a pack to $1.01.

This year, Utah, New Mexico and Hawaii have already enacted excise tax increases. And at least five other states are considering them, health advocates say.

But revenues from the taxes generally are used to shore up state budgets, but not to build programs to prevent smoking or to help smokers quit.

American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown urged all states to boost their tobacco taxes.

“Legislators can multiply the positive impact of a tax increase on both public health and their state’s fiscal health by dedicating a portion of the money to implementing tobacco prevention programs that have, in some cases, reduced youth smoking by up to 40 percent,” Brown said in a statement.

In a second report, the CDC noted that 25 states have laws that set a minimum price that can be charged for cigarettes. Those laws can help keep discounts from offsetting any tax increases, they said.

Cigarette manufacturers spent $12.5 billion on marketing and promotion of their products in 2006, and more than $9 billion of that was for reducing the price of a pack at the point of sale, according to an estimate cited by the CDC.

Philip Morris USA, however, said it has been cutting what it spends on promotions and advertising — including coupons and discounts. Spending dropped by a third from 2003 to 2007, said spokesman Bill Phelps.

Rather than raise taxes, legislators should spend more of what they already collect on preventing smoking and programs to help smokers quit, he added.

“Additional laws might be necessary to prohibit all retail price promotions that can decrease cigarette retail prices to consumers,” the CDC said.

It always makes me smile when, in the Land of the Free, the word “prohibit” is bandied around with such regularity, except, of course, when it comes to the issue of firearms where a ban could lead to a reduction in “preventable” deaths.

[Based on reports by Reuters and the Associated Press.]

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