Dec. 21 2003
Washington, DC — Governor Mark Warner’s budget proposal to dedicate 40 percent of the state’s revenue from its legal settlement with the tobacco industry to health care is a solid step forward in the fight to protect the health of Virginians. However, Virginia’s leaders should do more by assuring full funding of the state’s tobacco prevention and cessation program at the minimum levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Governor Warner has moved the state forward by continuing to fund the state’s promising tobacco prevention program, proposing a modest but historic increase in the cigarette tax and proposing to earmark 40 percent of the state’s tobacco settlement funds for health care. However, tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in Virginia, and we urge the state’s leaders to increase funding for tobacco prevention and pass an increase in the cigarette tax to 75-cents a pack, which would generate more than enough revenue to fully fund the tobacco prevention and cessation program. Virginia’s current tobacco prevention program funding amounts to $17.4 million annually which works out to be 44.8 percent of the minimum amount that the CDC has recommended the state spend.
Governor Warner’s proposal to increase Virginia’s cigarette tax, which at 2.5 cents per pack is the lowest in the country, is another important step toward protecting Virginia’s kids and taxpayers from the devastating toll of tobacco. Increasing the cigarette tax is a win-win-win solution for Virginia. It is a public health win that will reduce smoking and save lives, a fiscal win that will raise much-needed revenue and reduce smoking-caused health care costs, and a political win because it has the strong support of Virginia voters. We are encouraged that several of Virginia’s legislative leaders have also expressed support for a cigarette tax increase. To make the most of this opportunity, we call on Virginia leaders to pass a 75-cent cigarette tax increase, which will bring significant health and revenue benefits and raise the Commonwealth’s cigarette tax to approximately the national average, which is currently 72.9 cents a pack and likely to rise as other states increase their cigarette taxes. We also urge support for Governor Warner’s proposal to allow county governments to impose their own tobacco taxes.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in Virginia, killing 9,100 people and costing the state $1.6 billion in health care costs each year. 15,700 more kids become regular, daily smokers every year, one-third of whom will die prematurely. By increasing its cigarette tax and funding for tobacco prevention, Virginia can protect kids from tobacco, save lives and save taxpayers money.