Virginia Senate’s Vote to Increase the Cigarette Tax is a Victory for Kids and Taxpayers

Statement by William V. Corr Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Feb. 20 2004

Washington, DC — The Virginia Senate’s vote today to increase the state’s cigarette tax to 35 cents per pack over the next two years is an important step toward protecting Virginia’s kids and taxpayers from the devastating toll of tobacco. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester has shown tremendous leadership in championing this proposal. We urge Virginia’s leaders to – at a minimum – enact this proposal into law. To achieve even greater health and revenue benefits, Virginia leaders should pass a 75-cent cigarette tax increase, which would raise the Commonwealth’s cigarette tax to approximately the national average, currently 73.5 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.

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. Virginia can expect a 75-cent per pack cigarette tax to prevent some 72,000 Virginia kids alive today from becoming smokers, save 36,000 Virginians from smoking-caused deaths, produce more than $1.3 billion in long-term health care savings, and raise roughly $653 million in new revenue over two years. The Senate’s proposal would prevent some 29,000 kids alive today from becoming smokers, save just under 15,000 Virginians from smoking-caused deaths, produce about $550 million in long-term health care savings, and raise roughly $263 million in new revenues over two years.

The evidence is clear that increasing the price of cigarettes is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among children and pregnant women, thus reducing the devastating toll of tobacco on health and health care. Studies show that every ten percent increase in the price of cigarettes will reduce youth smoking by about seven percent and overall cigarette consumption by about four percent. Even while reducing smoking, every state that has significantly increased its cigarette tax has enjoyed substantial increases in revenue. Virginia can enjoy these many benefits by joining the 32 states that have increased their cigarette taxes in the past two years. At present the state’s cigarette tax is the lowest in the nation at 2.5 cents per pack.

Virginia voters strongly support a cigarette tax increase. A January 2004 Virginia poll showed 71 percent of voters favor a 75-cent per pack cigarette tax increase. This support comes from a diverse array of Virginia voters, including Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

In addition to increasing the cigarette tax, it is critical that Governor Warner and the Legislature use a portion of the state’s tobacco settlement and tobacco tax dollars to continue and expand the state’s tobacco prevention and cessation program. Virginia this year plans to spend $17.4 million on tobacco prevention, which is just 45 percent of the minimum amount of $38.9 million recommended by the CDC. With a cigarette tax increase, it would take just a small percentage of the state’s total tobacco revenue to fund a prevention program at CDC-recommended levels, leaving plenty of money for other purposes. Through the combination of a cigarette tax increase and a well-funded tobacco prevention program, Virginia can achieve dramatic reductions in smoking among both kids and adults, as other states have shown.

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, Virginia can protect kids from tobacco, save lives and save taxpayers money.

 

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