May. 13 2009
Washington, D.C. — Mississippi leaders have taken an important step to protect the state's kids and taxpayers from the devastating toll of tobacco by increasing the state cigarette tax for the first time since 1985. The 50-cent increase, to 68 cents per pack, is a win-win-win solution for Mississippi — a health win that will reduce tobacco use and save lives, a financial win that will raise much-needed revenue and reduce tobacco-caused health care costs, and a political win that is popular with voters. However, at 68 cents per pack, Mississippi's cigarette tax will still be well below the state average of $1.24 per pack, so Mississippi's leaders can achieve even greater health and financial benefits by further increasing tobacco taxes.
We applaud the legislators who took a stand to protect the health and pocketbooks of Mississippi families and congratulate the many organizations that advocated for the cigarette tax increase for their tireless efforts to improve Mississippians' health.
The evidence is clear that increasing the cigarette tax is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among kids. Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by 7 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent. Mississippi can expect a 50-cent-per-pack cigarette tax increase to prevent some 16,000 Mississippi kids alive today from becoming smokers, spur 9,700 Mississippi smokers to quit for good, save 7,600 Mississippi residents from smoking-caused deaths, produce $372 million in long-term health care savings, and raise $94 million a year in new revenue.
In addition to further increasing state tobacco taxes, Mississippi leaders should also use some of the tobacco tax revenue to increase funding for the state's tobacco prevention and cessation program. Mississippi once had one of the nation's most effective tobacco prevention programs, but has yet to restore funding after 2006 budget cuts. Mississippi currently spends $10.7 million a year on tobacco prevention programs, which is just 27.3 percent of the $39.2 million recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in Mississippi, claiming 4,700 lives each year and costing the state $719 million annually in health care bills, including $264 million in Medicaid payments alone. Government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $559 each year on every Mississippi household. In addition, more than 19 percent of Mississippi high school students currently smoke, 14,100 Mississippi kids try smoking for the first time each year, and 4,200 more kids become regular smokers every year.
Counting the Mississippi increase and a cigarette tax increase awaiting the governor's signature in Florida, the average state cigarette tax would be $1.27 per pack. Rhode Island has the highest state cigarette tax at $3.46 per pack. Twelve states and the District of Columbia have cigarette tax rates of at least $2 per pack, and 27 states and DC would have cigarette tax rates of at least $1 per pack or more.