Wisconsin Tobacco Tax Increase is Positive Step for Health, but Budget Disappoints by Cutting Funding for Tobacco Prevention Programs

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

Jun. 30 2009

Washington, D.C. — Wisconsin leaders have taken a positive step to protect the state's kids and taxpayers from the devastating toll of tobacco by increasing the state cigarette tax by 75 cents. However, it is deeply disappointing that despite this increase in tobacco-related revenue, state leaders approved a budget that cuts funding by more than half for critical tobacco prevention and cessation programs. This devastating cut will reduce the number of people who quit as a result of the cigarette tax increase and undermine successful programs already in place to protect kids and help smokers quit.

The budget cut will reduce the amount Wisconsin spends a year on tobacco prevention and cessation programs to just $6.85 million a year. This is barely one-tenth of the $64.3 million that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that Wisconsin spend each year on such programs. It is also just a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars the state collects each year from tobacco taxes and the 1998 state tobacco settlement.

It is penny-wise and pound-foolish to shortchange tobacco prevention programs. These programs are proven to reduce smoking among both youth and adults, save lives and save money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs, which total more than $2 billion a year in Wisconsin. An August 2008 scientific study found that California's tobacco prevention program saved $86 billion in health care costs in its first 15 years, which is nearly 50 times what the state spent on the program. Few government programs provide such a tremendous return on investment.

Nevertheless, the cigarette tax increase, to $2.52 cents per pack, is a win-win solution for Wisconsin — a health win that will reduce tobacco use and save lives and a financial win that will raise much-needed revenue. It is also a positive step that the budget increases the tax on other tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, which will serve to discourage youth from using all tobacco products.

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. Wisconsin can expect a 75-cent-per-pack cigarette tax increase to prevent some 33,100 Wisconsin kids alive today from becoming smokers, spur 17,000 Wisconsin smokers to quit for good, save 15,000 Wisconsin residents from smoking-caused deaths, produce more than $740 million in long-term health care savings, and raise $97 million a year in new revenue.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. In Wisconsin, tobacco use claims more than 7,200 lives each year and costs the state $2.02 billion annually in health care bills, including $480 million in Medicaid payments alone. Government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $594 every year on every Wisconsin household. More than 20 percent of Wisconsin high school students smoke, and 7,900 more kids become smokers every year.

States that have been most successful at reducing tobacco use have implemented a comprehensive approach that includes high tobacco taxes, strong smoke-free workplace laws and well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs. Wisconsin legislators passed important measures this year on the first two steps and the state was making progress on the third until these cuts were passed. Legislators need to take corrective steps in the future to put back in place the third critical element of the fight against tobacco by increasing funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

Wisconsin becomes the ninth state to increase its tobacco tax in 2009. The other states are Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont. When all these cigarette tax increases are implemented, the average state cigarette tax will be $1.29 per pack.

 

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