Apr. 13 2010
Washington, D.C. — Governor Christine Gregoire and the Washington Legislature have taken decisive action to protect the state's kids and taxpayers from the devastating toll of tobacco use by increasing the state cigarette tax by $1 to $3.025 per pack. The tobacco tax increase is a win-win-win solution for Washington — a health win that will reduce tobacco use and save lives, a financial win that will help to balance the state budget and fund essential programs, and a political win that polls show is popular with the voters. We applaud Governor Gregoire for proposing the tobacco tax increase and the Legislature for enacting it into law.
It is good news for Washington's health that the state is also increasing taxes on other tobacco products. This action will discourage use of all tobacco products, while raising additional revenue for the state.
It is disappointing, however, that Washington's leaders failed to allocate any of the new tobacco tax revenue to restore funding for the state's highly successful tobacco prevention and cessation program, which had its funding cut by $11.4 million (42 percent) in the past year. Instead, the budget for the coming year would further cut funding for the program by $2.6 million. This will further erode Washington's efforts to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit, at the same time that smokers are more likely to seek help quitting as a result of the cigarette tax increase. Since tobacco taxes are being used to fill Washington's budget gap, it is only fair to Washington's current and potential tobacco users that the state at least maintain its tobacco prevention and cessation efforts. To continue making progress in reducing tobacco use, it is imperative that Washington's leaders seize the earliest possible opportunity to restore funding for these programs.
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 about 6.5 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent. Washington can expect the $1 cigarette tax increase to prevent 38,400 Washington kids from becoming smokers; spur 19,200 smokers to quit; save more than 17,300 Washington residents from smoking-caused deaths; lock in $854 million in future health care savings; and raise about $80.7 million a year in new state revenue.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in Washington, claiming 7,600 lives each year and costing the state $1.95 billion annually in health care bills. While Washington has made significant progress in reducing youth smoking, 14.4 percent of Washington high school students smoke, and 27,000 kids try cigarettes for the first time each year.
With Washington's increase, the average state cigarette tax will be $1.40 per pack. Washington is the third state to increase its cigarette tax this year, joining Utah ($1 increase) and New Mexico (75-cent increase). We call on states across the nation to significantly increase the tobacco tax to reduce tobacco use and its devastating health and financial toll, as well as raise much-needed revenue to help close budget shortfalls.