U.S. Senate Acts to Protect Kids, Save Lives by Increasing Federal Tobacco Taxes

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

Jan. 29 2009

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Senate today delivered a tremendous victory for children's health by voting to increase federal tobacco taxes, including a 61-cent increase in the cigarette tax, to fund reauthorization and expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). This legislation will create a healthier future for millions of children both by reducing tobacco use — the number one cause of preventable death in America — and by expanding health care coverage for kids. We look forward to final enactment of this legislation by Congress and its signature into law by President Obama.

Increasing tobacco taxes is a proven strategy to reduce smoking and other tobacco use, especially among children. Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by seven percent and overall cigarette consumption by about four percent. A 61-cent increase in the federal cigarette tax will prevent nearly two million kids from starting to smoke, help more than one million adult smokers quit, prevent nearly 900,000 smoking-caused deaths and produce $44 billion in long-term health care savings by reducing tobacco-caused health care costs.

To maximize the health benefits from the tobacco tax increase, we urge the Congress to adopt the Senate bill's approach to taxing so-called "little cigars," which are the same size as cigarettes but have a brown wrapper. The Senate bill would immediately increase the tax on little cigars to $1 per pack, the same rate as for cigarettes, while the House bill would phase in the increase over six years. Allowing a disparity in tax rates would create an incentive for some cigarettes to continue to evade taxes by masquerading as little cigars and make these products more appealing to kids because of the lower prices.

Higher tobacco taxes are a win-win-win solution for the country — a health win that will reduce tobacco use and save lives, a financial win that will raise revenue to help fund the SCHIP program and reduce tobacco-caused health care costs, and a political win that is popular with voters. Polling conducted for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids found that more than two-thirds of all voters support a significant increase in the federal cigarette tax to provide health care coverage to uninsured children. This support is evident among virtually every political and demographic subgroup of voters across the country, with large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents, men and women, and urban and rural voters supporting the cigarette tax to fund children's health care.

Tobacco use kills more than 400,000 people in the United States and costs the nation more than $96 billion in health care bills each year. Currently, 20 percent of high school students smoke and more than 1,000 kids become new regular smokers every day.

We urge Congress to finalize this important legislation without delay. It will expand health care coverage for America's children while helping to reduce tobacco use and save lives.

 

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