The House Revenue and Taxation Committee today sided with Big Tobacco over Idaho's kids by rejecting a $1.25 increase in the state cigarette tax. Tobacco companies have fought the cigarette tax increase for the same reason health leaders have supported it: Because they know it will reduce smoking, especially among kids. The committee members who voted down the cigarette tax increase have protected the tobacco industry's profits at the expense of kids' health. This vote also ignores the irrefutable evidence, reaffirmed in a U.S. Surgeon General's report released just last week, that increasing the cigarette tax is one of the most effective ways to keep kids from smoking.
Today's vote is also a loss for Idaho taxpayers because a higher cigarette tax would reduce tobacco-related health care costs, which total $319 million a year in Idaho, including $83 million paid by the state Medicaid program. Government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $530 each year on every Idaho household.
We urge the Legislature to revisit this issue at the earliest possible opportunity and enact a significant tobacco tax increase. A higher tobacco tax would truly be a win-win-win for Idaho - a health win that reduces tobacco use and saves lives, a financial win that reduces health care costs and raises revenue to help fund essential programs and a political win that polls show is popular with the voters. Polls have found that more than 70 percent of Idaho voters support raising the tobacco tax.
The U.S. Surgeon General's report released last week, Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults, leaves no doubt that increasing the price of cigarettes through higher tobacco taxes is highly effective at reducing smoking, especially among youth. Based on an exhaustive review of the scientific evidence, the report concluded, "The evidence is sufficient to conclude that increases in cigarette price reduce the initiation, prevalence, and intensity of smoking among youth and young adults."
Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by about 7 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent. Idaho can expect a $1.25 cigarette tax increase to prevent 12,400 Idaho kids from becoming smokers; spur 9,400 current adult smokers to quit; save more than 6,400 Idaho residents from smoking-caused deaths; save more than $400 million in long-term health care costs; and raise about $47.3 million a year in new state revenue.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in Idaho, claiming 1,500 lives each year. While Idaho has made significant progress in reducing youth smoking, 14.5 percent of Idaho high school students smoke and 1,300 more kids become regular smokers every year.