Feb. 13 2009
Washington, D.C. — Kentucky leaders missed an important opportunity this week to significantly improve the physical and financial health of the state when they approved a 30-cent cigarette tax increase over a competing 70-cent proposal, the latter of which would have saved thousands more lives and raised millions in additional revenue to help resolve the state's budget crisis.
The difference in lives and dollars saved between a 30-cent per pack increase and a 70-cent per pack increase is stark. A 70-cent per pack cigarette tax increase (as compared to a 30-cent increase) would have prevented an additional 21,900 Kentucky kids alive today from becoming smokers, saved an additional 11,200 Kentucky resident from smoking-caused deaths, produced an additional $532 million in long-term health care savings, and raised an additional $115 million in new revenue each year.
In addition to the obvious health and financial benefits, the larger tax also enjoyed significant public support. A poll released last month found that 68 percent of Kentucky voters supported a 70-cent increase in the cigarette tax — and 69 percent supported an even greater increase of $1 a pack.
When the 30-cent tax increase goes into effect April 1, Kentucky's tax of 60 cents per pack will remain well below the average state cigarette tax of $1.19 per pack. Since January 1, 2002, 44 states have increased cigarette taxes, some more than once. Twenty-seven states have a state tax rate of $1 or more per pack.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. In Kentucky, tobacco claims 7,800 lives each year and costs the state $1.5 billion annually in health care bills, including $487 million in Medicaid payments alone. Currently, 28.2 percent of Kentucky adults smoke, which is the highest smoking rate in the country. Government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $595 every year on every Kentucky household. Twenty-six percent of Kentucky high school students smoke, and 6,500 more kids become smokers every year.