Apr. 27 2004
Washington, DC — The Virginia Legislature’s vote today to increase the state’s lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax is an historic step toward protecting kids and taxpayers from tobacco’s devastating toll in a state that is home to the world’s largest tobacco company. While a larger cigarette tax increase would have delivered even greater benefits, the increase in the cigarette tax from 2.5 cents to 30 cents a pack is both a public health and fiscal victory for Virginia. It will reduce smoking and save lives, while raising much-needed revenue. We applaud the leaders of this bipartisan effort, especially Gov. Mark Warner who initially proposed a cigarette tax increase and Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester, who has strongly supported it throughout the extended legislative process. With this action, Virginia joins 31 other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico in increasing cigarette taxes since January 1, 2002.
The final Virginia budget approved by the Legislature will increase the cigarette tax to 20 cents a pack this year and to 30 cents a pack next year. The cigarette tax increase will prevent some 24,000 kids alive today from becoming smokers, spur some 21,000 current smokers to quit, save about 12,000 Virginians from smoking-caused deaths, and produce about $461 million in long-term health care savings. Once fully implemented, the cigarette tax increase will produce about $130 million a year in new revenue. Importantly, the budget also will help reduce other forms of tobacco use by imposing the state’s first-ever tax on other tobacco products, with a 10 percent tax taking effect next year.
Virginia’s action comes less than one week after the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld Lexington’s comprehensive smoke-free workplace ordinance, which covers all indoor workplaces including restaurants and bars. These actions in Virginia and Kentucky represent important progress in addressing the disproportionately high smoking rates in tobacco-growing states, which have paid a terrible price in health, lives and money. Tobacco-state leaders are beginning to see past the misleading arguments that tobacco prevention measures will hurt their economies, which have stymied efforts to protect public health for too long. One recent study, for example, found that a cigarette tax increase in Virginia would in fact stimulate the economy, create new jobs and not have a significant economic impact on the state’s cigarette manufacturers or tobacco farmers. Tobacco prevention measures also have strong public support in the tobacco-growing states, as demonstrated by the 71 percent of Virginia voters who supported a 75-cent per pack cigarette tax increase in a January 2004 poll.
We hope these recent actions will spur state and local leaders in all tobacco-growing states to take effective action to reduce tobacco’s tragic toll, including increasing cigarette taxes, enacting smoke-free workplace policies and properly funding tobacco prevention and cessation programs.