Governor Barbour’s Veto of Legislation to Enrich Health and Pocketbooks of Mississippians is Outrageous Giveaway to Big Tobacco

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Jan. 18 2006

Washington, DC — By vetoing legislation that would increase Mississippi’s incredibly low cigarette tax and eliminate its regressive grocery tax, Governor Haley Barbour has sacrificed the health and financial interests of his current employer-the people of Mississippi-to sustain the interests of his former Big Tobacco employers. The legislation vetoed by Governor Barbour would reduce the devastating toll of tobacco on Mississippi and make groceries more affordable for everyone. In fact, the Governor has rejected what would be a win-win-win solution for Mississippi - a health win that will reduce tobacco use and save lives, a fiscal win that will save taxpayer dollars by reducing smoking-caused healthcare costs and a political win that is popular with the voters. Governor Barbour is the single roadblock to delivering these critical health and economic benefits to all Mississippians.

The legislation, passed overwhelmingly by the Mississippi Legislature and supported by Lt. Governor Amy Tuck, would raise the state’s cigarette tax incrementally by 57 cents to 75 cents per pack on July 1, 2006, and by an additional 25 cents on July 1, 2007, bringing the total tax to $1 per pack. The legislation would also phase out the state’s regressive 7 percent grocery sales tax by 2014. Mississippi’s current cigarette tax is among the lowest in the nation and is just a fraction of the average state cigarette tax of 91.7 cents per pack.

Governor Barbour has cited potential economic loss as justification for his veto. However, Lt. Governor Tuck and the vast majority of Legislators that support this legislation have promised to address any potential budget shortfalls before they occur. The Governor’s fuzzy economic math is nothing more than a last ditch effort to protect Big Tobacco and derail this important legislation.

It is critical that the Legislature override the Governor’s veto because thousands of lives and millions of dollars are at stake. Mississippi can expect a two stage, 82-cent per pack cigarette tax increase to prevent some 38,100 Mississippi kids alive today from becoming smokers, save 16,900 Mississippians from smoking-caused deaths, produce more than $767.3 million in long-term health care savings, including $155.4 million in Medicaid savings. 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. Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by seven percent and overall cigarette consumption by three to five percent.

Preliminary evidence confirms that every state that has significantly increased its cigarette tax in recent years has enjoyed substantial increases in revenue, even while reducing cigarette sales. As a result, 41 states, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have increased their cigarette taxes since January 1, 2002. During that time, the average state cigarette tax has more than doubled from 43.4 cents to 91.7 cents a pack, raising billions in new state revenue while helping to significantly reduce smoking and save lives. Even tobacco-growing states are realizing the health and economic benefits of cigarette tax increases. Kentucky, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina have all increased their cigarette taxes in recent years.

Governor Barbour’s decision to veto this critical public health legislation benefits only Big Tobacco and deals a blow to Mississippi, which already suffers from the devastating toll of tobacco. Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in Mississippi, claiming more than 4,700 lives each year and costing the state $662 million annually in health care bills, including $243 million in Medicaid payments alone. Government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $528 each year on every Mississippi household. While Mississippi has made significant progress in reducing youth smoking as a result of its nationally lauded tobacco prevention program run by the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, 22.4 percent of Mississippi high school students are still current smokers, and 6,800 more kids become regular smokers every year.

Mississippi Legislators have a duty to heed the wishes of the majority of Mississippians who support a cigarette tax increase and to stand up for this critical legislation that will reduce smoking, save lives and save taxpayer dollars. We urge the Mississippi Legislature to override Governor Barbour’s veto to make it clear to the people of Mississippi that it is their interests, and not the interests of Big Tobacco, that they represent.

 

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