Jul. 31 2009
Washington, D.C. — The D.C. Council has taken an important step to protect the District's kids and taxpayers from the devastating toll of tobacco use by increasing the cigarette tax by 50 cents to $2.50 per pack — the seventh highest cigarette tax in the nation. We applaud the City Council for its unanimous support of this life-saving proposal, and we look forward to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty signing it into law.
At the same time, the Council missed an opportunity to renew funding for the highly successful DC Tobacco-Free Families tobacco prevention and cessation program. Without action, funding for this program will largely expire at the end of September. To enhance and sustain the benefits from the tax increase, D.C. leaders should act quickly to provide the needed funds.
Higher tobacco taxes are a win-win-win solution for the District of Columbia — a health win that will reduce tobacco use and save lives, a financial win that will raise revenue for critical programs, and a political win that polls show is popular with the voters. With the increase, the District of Columbia will join 11 states that have increased their cigarette taxes this year.
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. The District of Columbia can expect the 50-cent cigarette tax increase to prevent more than 1,300 kids from smoking; spur 1,000 smokers to quit for good; save more than 600 residents from future smoking-caused deaths; produce $32.3 million in long-term health care savings; and raise about $3.6 million a year in new revenue.
With the District of Columbia increase, the average state cigarette tax will be $1.32 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 D.C. have cigarette tax rates of at least $1 per pack.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the District of Columbia, claiming 720 lives each year and costing the District $243 million annually in health care bills, including $78 million in Medicaid payments alone. Government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $602 each year on every District of Columbia household. While the District of Columbia has made some progress in reducing youth smoking, 10.6 percent of District of Columbia high school students still smoke and 400 more kids become regular smokers every year.