Leading Health Groups Urge Rhode Island Lawmakers to Approve Large Increase in Cigarette Tax, Reject 4-Cent Proposed Increase

Jun 06, 2012, 17:00 ET from Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Small Increases Not Enough to Reduce Smoking

WASHINGTON, June 6, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Leading public health organizations are urging Rhode Island lawmakers to reject a 4-cent per pack increase in the state cigarette tax that was included in the proposed FY2013 budget and to approve a much larger increase that can reduce smoking and save lives, while raising significant new revenue for the state.  Scientific evidence shows that small cigarette tax increases such as that proposed in Rhode Island are not enough to reduce smoking, especially given significant tobacco spending to discount the price of cigarettes and make them more affordable and appealing to kids.

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Public health organizations supporting the larger cigarette tax increase include the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association in Rhode Island and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

A significant tobacco tax increase is a win-win-win solution for Rhode Island – a health win that will reduce tobacco use and save lives, a financial win that reduces tobacco-related health care costs and raises revenue to fund essential programs, and a political win that polls show is popular with the voters.

Public health advocates urge the General Assembly to pass House Bill 7715 introduced by Rep. Art Handy (D-Cranston), which would increase the cigarette tax by 90 cents per pack. Raising the cigarette tax by 90 cents is estimated to keep more than 3,000 Rhode Island kids from becoming smokers, encourage almost 2,900 adult smokers to quit and save 1,600 Rhode Islanders from a premature death from tobacco use.  It would also produce almost $16 million in new annual revenue for the state and save more than $100 million in future, tobacco-related health care costs.

The state would generate additional public health benefits from equalizing its tax rates on other tobacco products to the new cigarette tax rate.  These dramatic gains in health will be further enhanced if Rhode Island dedicates some portion of these tax revenues to programs that prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.  States that have invested in comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programs have reduced tobacco use at rates far greater than the rest of the country.

In contrast, the state projects that the proposed 4-cent cigarette tax increase would bring in only $1.8 million a year in revenue. It would have no public health benefit in reducing smoking and the death, disease and health care costs due to tobacco use.

"Small cigarette price increases have virtually no effect on public health because tobacco companies easily undercut these increases with price discounting strategies. A 90-cent cigarette tax increase would overcome these strategies, thereby preventing kids from starting to smoke, encouraging smokers to quit and saving lives and  health care dollars," states Susan M. Liss, Executive Director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Tobacco companies currently spend most of their marketing and promotional budget on price discounting strategies because they know that know that keeping prices low encourages smoking, while higher prices reduce smoking, especially among kids.  Current industry discounts amount to a roughly 50-cent reduction in the per-pack cost of cigarettes, and tobacco companies can easily extend those discounts to undermine the impact of small cigarette tax increases.

"By raising the cigarette tax by 90 cents, Rhode Island can dramatically improve public health by reducing tobacco use while at the same time raising millions of dollars to address budget issues and save vital programs. This is a win-win for the state," said Susan Roberts, Director of Government Relations and Advocacy for the American Cancer Society.

Numerous studies and virtually every public health expert in this country, including the U.S. Surgeon General, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and the President's Cancer Panel, agree that raising tobacco product prices is one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, especially among kids.  Even tobacco companies admit this is the case in their own internal documents.

When the cigarette tax was last increased in Rhode Island by $1 a pack on April 10, 2009, Rhode Island generated more than $17 million in new revenue (a 15 percent increase) in the first 12 months after the tax, while cigarette consumption declined by almost 15 percent.  Over the last 10 years, every time Rhode Island increased its cigarette tax, revenues have gone up an average 20 percent and cigarette consumption has gone down more than 11 percent.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Rhode Island, annually claiming 1,600 lives and costing the state $506 million in health care bills. While Rhode Island has made progress in reducing smoking, 13.3 percent of Rhode Island high school students still smoke and 5,000 kids try cigarettes for the first time each year.

About the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is a leading force in the fight to reduce tobacco use and its deadly toll in the United States and around the world. Our vision is a future free of the death and disease caused by tobacco. We work to prevent kids from smoking, help smokers quit and protect everyone from secondhand smoke. For more information, visit www.tobaccofreekids.org.

SOURCE Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids