New Poll Shows Strong Public Support

Voters Overwhelmingly Prefer Tobacco Tax Increase to Program Spending Cuts or Raiding the Social Security Trust Fund

Oct. 28 1999

Washington, DC - As Congress and the President try to resolve the current budget impasse, a new poll released today clearly demonstrates that voters would rather raise the federal excise tax on cigarettes than cut program spending or use funds from the Social Security Trust Fund to balance the federal budget. The survey of 800 likely voters, conducted by The Mellman Group, Inc., a prominent Democratic polling firm, and Market Strategies, Inc., a well-known Republican polling firm, showed that when asked if they would prefer spending some of the Social Security Trust Fund, cutting spending for programs or raising taxes on cigarettes in order to balance the federal budget: 63 percent would raise the cigarette tax; 13 percent would cut spending on programs; and 6 percent would spend some of the Social Security Trust Fund. “The tobacco tax is a way to fix the budget impasse while, at the same time, protecting millions of kids from the allure of tobacco,” said M. Cass Wheeler, chief executive officer of the American Heart Association. “Congress and the President should heed the will of the American people and get the job done.” “Everyone, including the tobacco companies, has known for years that raising the price of cigarettes is one of the most effective ways to reduce youth smoking,” added John R. Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society. “In California, which raised its state tax by 50 cents, sales dropped by 30 percent during the first half of 1999. A federal tobacco tax increase of 55 cents would prevent over two million kids alive today from becoming smokers, averting roughly 700,000 premature deaths.” The support for increasing the cigarette excise tax crosses party and ideological lines, as well as demographic boundaries such as income, age and gender. Majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans favor increasing the cigarette tax over the other alternatives and by a margin of at least two to one. Among conservative Republicans, voters are much more likely to favor raising the cigarette tax (48%) to cutting program spending (31%), or using the Social Security Trust Fund (6%). Smokers and low-income voters also favor the cigarette tax increase over the other alternatives. “Increasing the tobacco tax is clearly the most preferred solution to the budget impasse across the spectrum of American voters,” said Mark Mellman, President and CEO of The Mellman Group, Inc. At a time when Americans generally resist tax increases, the poll also demonstrates that few voters would view negatively a candidate’s vote for the tobacco tax. Just 21 percent said a vote for a 55 cent cigarette tax increase would be a “very convincing” reason to vote against a candidate. In contrast, many more respondents said voting to spend money from the Social Security Trust Fund (37%), voting to cut education spending (37%), voting to cut health care spending (31%), and voting to cut Medicare (42%) would be a “very convincing” reason to vote against a candidate. “Clearly, the public views the tobacco tax in a separate category from income or other taxes, perhaps perceiving it more as a fee on smokers. Therefore, they are not inclined to punish lawmakers who support a measure which will improve the public health,” said Dimitri Pantazopoulos, Washington Partner of Market Strategies, Inc. The poll results were released today by the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The survey of 800 likely voters was conducted October 23 – October 26 by The Mellman Group, Inc. and Market Strategies, Inc. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

 

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