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President's Plan to Expand Early Education with a Tobacco Tax Will Protect Kids and Save Lives

Statement of Susan M. Liss, Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
March 04, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – President Obama today again called for bold action to protect our children from tobacco addiction and save lives, urging Congress to increase the federal cigarette tax by 94 cents per pack and similarly increase taxes on other tobacco products. The evidence is clear that increasing the tobacco tax is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking and other tobacco use, especially among kids, as this year’s Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health just reaffirmed.

This proposal, part of the President’s FY 2015 budget, would do more to reduce tobacco use among kids than any other single action the federal government can take. The tobacco tax increase would also raise $78 billion over 10 years to fund early childhood education initiatives proposed by the President, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Congress should embrace this proposal enthusiastically – it would provide millions of kids with a strong start in life, while helping them live longer, healthier lives free of tobacco addiction.

The need for Congress to increase the tobacco tax is more urgent than ever. While our nation has cut smoking rates by more than half since the first Surgeon General’s report was issued 50 years ago in 1964, the latest Surgeon General’s report found that smoking is even more hazardous and takes an even greater toll on our nation’s health than previously thought. The report found that smoking annually kills 480,000 Americans – causing one in every five deaths – and costs the nation more than $289 billion in health care bills and other economic losses. Tobacco use remains the number one cause of preventable death in our country.

The report also underscored that tobacco use is a pediatric epidemic – 90 percent of adult smokers began at or before age 18, and 5.6 million kids alive today will die prematurely from smoking-caused disease unless current trends are reversed. The President’s proposal represents exactly the kind of action needed to accelerate progress against tobacco and ultimately end the tobacco epidemic for good.

Among its key action steps, the new Surgeon General’s report calls for “raising the average excise cigarette taxes to prevent youth from starting smoking and encouraging smokers to quit.”

“Raising prices on cigarettes is one of the most effective tobacco control interventions,” the report concludes. “The evidence is sufficient to conclude that increases in the prices of tobacco products, including those resulting from excise tax increases, prevent initiation of tobacco use, promote cessation, and reduce the prevalence and intensity of tobacco use among youth and adults.”

Even tobacco companies admit in their own documents that tobacco tax increases reduce youth smoking. Economic research has found that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by about seven percent and overall cigarette consumption by three to five percent.

The health and economic benefits of a federal tobacco tax increase were confirmed in a 2012 report by the highly respected Congressional Budget Office. The CBO found that a 50-cent increase in the federal tobacco tax would raise substantial new revenue while prompting nearly 1.4 million adult smokers to quit by 2021, saving tens of thousands of lives and reducing health care costs, including for the Medicaid program. Based on the CBO's statement that a $1 tax increase would roughly double those benefits, we estimate that a 94-cent cigarette tax increase would prompt 2.6 million adult smokers to quit and save 18,000 lives over 10 years.

We estimate that a 94-cent increase in the federal cigarette tax would also:

  • Prevent 1.3 million kids from becoming addicted adult smokers;

  • Prevent 493,400 premature deaths from these reductions in youth smoking alone, and

  • Save $55 billion in future health care costs from reductions in youth and adult smoking.

The increased taxes on other tobacco products would have additional health benefits, preventing kids from using harmful and addictive products such as cheap, sweet cigars and smokeless tobacco.

Furthermore, national and state polls consistently show strong public support for substantial increases in tobacco taxes, with most polls showing voters favoring tobacco tax increases by more than a two-to-one margin. Polls consistently have found that large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents and voters from a broad range of demographic and ethnic groups all support tobacco tax increases – as do significant numbers of smokers.

In short, a significant tobacco tax increase is a win-win-win for the country – a health win that will reduce tobacco use and save lives, a financial win that will raise revenue to fund an important initiative and reduce tobacco-related health care costs, and a political win that is popular with voters.