May. 13 2010
Washington, D.C. -— The South Carolina Legislature today delivered an historic victory for the state's kids and health by voting to override Governor Mark Sanford's veto and increase the state's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax by 50 cents, to 57 cents per pack. The Senate voted today to override the veto, joining the House which voted yesterday. South Carolina has not increased its cigarette tax since 1977, far longer than any other state. The higher cigarette tax is truly a win-win-win solution for South Carolina — 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.
In another important step forward, the Legislature allocated $5 million of the new cigarette tax revenue to fund programs that prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. While still short of the $62.2 million a year recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for such programs, this represents the largest investment South Carolina has ever made in tobacco prevention. We urge state leaders to add to this funding in the future.
We applaud the members of the Legislature who put South Carolina's children and health ahead of tobacco industry profits and voted to override the governor's irresponsible veto. We also applaud the South Carolina Tobacco Collaborative, a statewide consortium of public health organizations that has waged a long campaign to increase the cigarette tax and reduce tobacco's devastating toll in South Carolina.
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. South Carolina can expect the 50 cents cigarette tax increase to prevent 23,300 South Carolina kids from becoming smokers; spur 12,800 current adult smokers to quit; save $529.4 million in future health care costs; and raise $123.4 million a year in new state revenue.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in South Carolina, claiming 6,100 lives and costing the state $1.1 billion in health care bills each year. Currently 17.8 percent of South Carolina high school students smoke, and 22,400 kids try cigarettes for the first time each year.
With South Carolina's increase, the average state cigarette tax will be $1.42 per pack. South Carolina is the fifth state to increase its cigarette tax this year, joining Utah ($1 increase), New Mexico (75 cents), Washington ($1) and Hawai'i (40 cents). Missouri will now have the lowest cigarette tax at just 17 cents a pack, while Rhode Island has the highest at $3.46 per pack. We call on every state 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.