Feb. 22 2005
Washington, DC — Governor Easley's proposal to increase the state cigarette tax by a "significant" amount is an important step toward protecting North Carolina's kids and taxpayers from the devastating toll of tobacco. Increasing the cigarette tax is a win-win-win solution for North Carolina. 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 cigarette taxes have the strong support of the public. North Carolina currently ranks next to last in the nation with a cigarette tax of just five cents a pack. To make the most of this opportunity, we call on North Carolina's leaders to pass a 75-cent cigarette tax increase, which will bring significant health and revenue benefits and raise the state's cigarette tax close to the national average, which is currently 84 cents a pack. We are encouraged that State Representatives Larry Womble (D-Forsyth), Jennifer Weiss (D-Wake) and others have introduced a bill that would increase North Carolina's cigarette tax by 75 cents per pack.
North Carolina can expect a 75-cent cigarette tax increase to prevent some 101,000 kids alive today from becoming smokers; spur 70,000 current adult smokers to quit; save 47,700 North Carolina residents from premature, smoking-caused deaths; produce $1.8 billion in long-term health care savings; and raise $347 million in new revenue each year. Studies show every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by about seven percent and overall cigarette consumption by about four percent. In recent years, every state that has significantly increased its cigarette tax has enjoyed significant increases in revenue even while reducing cigarette sales. View the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Fact Sheet listing all the projected benefits for North Carolina from a 75-cent cigarette tax increase.
A cigarette tax increase is also popular with North Carolina residents, with 63 percent expressing support, according to a poll released last week by Elon University's Institute for Politics and Public Affairs.
North Carolina can achieve even greater reductions in smoking and even greater health and financial benefits by dedicating a small portion of the new cigarette tax revenue to tobacco prevention. North Carolina has made significant progress in funding tobacco programs over the past two years by increasing prevention funding from $6.2 million to $15 million. Still, North Carolina currently spends just 35.2 percent of the minimum amount of $42.6 million recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It would take just a small percentage of the new cigarette tax revenue to increase funding for tobacco prevention, leaving plenty for other purposes.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in North Carolina, claiming more than 11,500 lives each year and costing the state $2.3 billion annually in health care bills, including $708 million in Medicaid payments alone. Government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $556 on every North Carolina household. In addition, 24.8 percent of North Carolina high school students currently smoke, and 23,700 more kids become regular smokers every year. By increasing the cigarette tax, North Carolina can protect its kids from tobacco, save lives and save money. By properly funding tobacco prevention, it can achieve even greater benefits.