Nov. 7 2001
Washington, DC — As states across the nation struggle with growing budget deficits, Washington State voters on Tuesday sent a loud and clear message that increasing cigarette taxes is a solution that is both effective and popular with voters. By 65 percent to 35 percent, Washington voters overwhelmingly approved state ballot initiative I-773, which raises cigarette taxes by 60 cents in order to fund health care for low-income persons and tobacco prevention programs. Underscoring the popularity of increasing the cigarette tax even in a generally anti-tax environment, Washington voters at the same time approved another initiative limiting property tax increases. The Washington vote shows that increasing cigarette taxes is good public health policy, good fiscal policy and good politics.
Cigarette taxes are a win-win solution for states. They help states to balance budgets by raising revenue and reducing tobacco-related health care costs, while reducing smoking and saving lives.
Numerous studies show that increasing cigarette taxes is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking among both youth and adults. These studies conclude that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes will reduce youth smoking by seven percent and overall cigarette consumption by three to five percent. In recent years, many states have raised cigarette tax rates, and in every case, they have reduced cigarette consumption while increasing revenues to balance budgets and fund vital programs. These states are also reducing the millions they spend each year on tobacco-related medical costs.
One important study, released April 24, 2001, shows that cigarette tax increases are especially effective at preventing kids from becoming regular, addicted smokers. A second study, released October 31, 2001, showed that cigarette tax increases are also very effective at reducing smoking among pregnant women, which improves their health and the health of their infants and reduces medical costs.
Other states can join Washington in achieving these benefits if they have the political will to act. Thirty-six states have not raised cigarette taxes in at least five years, 17 have not raised them for at least a decade and six have not raised them in at least 20 years. Washington voters have shattered a myth – held by too many elected officials – that cigarette tax increases are unpopular. Elected officials across the nation should seize the opportunity presented by cigarette tax increases to solve both the public health and budgetary challenges they face.
(For more information on the benefits of cigarette excise taxes, please visit our web site at www.tobaccofreekids.org/reports/prices.)