Despite the states' urgent need for revenue and the fact that the Surgeon General has found that millions of American youth continue to smoke, a report issued today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that few states enacted cigarette tax increases in 2011. Cigarette tax increases have been proven to raise revenue even while reducing smoking, especially among children.
Only three states enacted relatively small cigarette tax increases in 2011 - the fewest states to do so since 2000 - and New Hampshire even cut its cigarette tax by 10 cents per pack. No state has enacted a cigarette tax increase yet this year. In comparison, an average of more than 10 states a year increased cigarette taxes between 2001 and 2010, and 15 states (including the District of Columbia) did so in 2009.
This failure to increase cigarette taxes is part of a broader backsliding in the states' efforts to reduce tobacco use, which is undermining the fight against the nation's number one cause of preventable death. States have also cut funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs by 36 percent ($260.5 million) in the past four years and are providing just 12 percent of the funding the CDC recommends. Progress in enacting statewide smoke-free laws that include all workplaces, restaurants and bars has also slowed.
If the nation is to continue reducing tobacco use, the states must do more to increase tobacco taxes and implement other proven solutions. It is no coincidence that the nation's progress in reducing smoking has slowed at the same time that states have reduced their efforts. It is a monumental mistake for the states to step back because tobacco use still kills more than 400,000 Americans and costs the nation nearly $100 billion a year in health care bills. The states pay much of these costs through Medicaid and other health programs.
The recent backsliding also comes as the tobacco industry and its allies, especially convenience stores, have stepped up their efforts to defeat cigarette tax increases and other tobacco prevention measures. In California, tobacco companies have already spent nearly $15 million against a June ballot initiative that would boost the state's cigarette tax by $1 to fund cancer research and tobacco prevention programs. In Idaho, the Altria Group (parent company of Philip Morris USA) spent more than $165,000 lobbying against a $1.25 cigarette tax increase. The company spent more money lobbying state officials in 2011 than any other interest group.
New Hampshire has learned the hard way that states pay a high price for doing the tobacco industry's bidding. The industry's political allies cut the state's cigarette tax by 10 cents in 2011, arguing that lower cigarette prices would increase revenues by attracting smokers from neighboring states. But cigarette makers hiked prices at the same time as the tax cut, leaving prices unchanged. While the tobacco companies profited, state revenues declined.
Tobacco companies oppose increasing the cigarette tax for the same reason health advocates support it - because it is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among kids. The scientific evidence couldn't be clearer, as confirmed by the latest Surgeon General's report on tobacco released earlier this month. The Surgeon General concluded, "Taxing tobacco products is especially effective in reducing their use among young people."
Tobacco tax increases are truly a win-win-win solution for the states - a health win that reduces tobacco use and saves lives, a financial win that reduces tobacco-related health care costs and raises revenue to help fund essential programs, and a political win that polls show is popular with the voters.
The recent Surgeon General's report provided a timely reminder that combating tobacco use must be a priority for the nation and the states. The report found that tobacco use remains a "pediatric epidemic," with more than 3.6 million middle and high school students still smoking, and the tobacco industry spreads this epidemic by spending more than $10 billion a year - $1 million dollars every hour - on marketing that entices kids.
Elected officials in every state face a simple question: Whose side are they on - America's kids or Big Tobacco? We urge them to side with kids by supporting cigarette tax increases and other proven measures to reduce tobacco use.
The CDC report was published in the March 29, 2012, issue of the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. It can be found at www.cdc.gov/mmwr.