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DC's Leaders Should Increase Cigarette Tax by 90 Cents and Deliver a Big Win to Kids and Taxpayers

Statement by William V. Corr Executive Vice President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
September 24, 2002

Washington, DC — While we welcome the strong support expressed by Mayor Anthony Williams and City Council members for increasing the District of Columbia's cigarette tax, we urge the city's leaders to approve an increase of 90 cents rather than 35 cents per pack. A higher cigarette tax would raise more revenue needed by the District, thereby reducing the need for other tax increases and cuts to vital programs such as education. It would also provide the city with more tobacco-generated revenue to fund a comprehensive tobacco prevention program to prevent kids from starting to smoke and help smokers to quit. Twenty states have already increased their cigarette taxes in the past year, and in each of these states the cigarette tax has proved to be a win-win-win solution – a health win that reduces smoking and the tremendous harm it causes, a fiscal win that generates much needed revenue and a political win that is popular with voters. DC's leaders should quickly approve a 90 cents a pack cigarette tax increase and join in enjoying these benefits.

Higher cigarette taxes have been proven to reduce smoking – especially among kids. DC can expect a 90 cents per pack tax increase to $1.55 to raise $18.9 million annually in new revenues, prevent some 3,700 kids alive today from becoming smokers, save 2,000 Washingtonians from smoking-caused deaths, and produce $78.2 million in long-term health care savings.

Preliminary results from some of the states that have increased cigarette taxes so far this year indicate that cigarette tax increases remain a dependable source of new revenue. Massachusetts' tax department recently released data showing their state's 75-cent per pack cigarette tax increase brought in $5 million more in revenue than originally projected, even while revenues from other sources were down in the state. In the first month of New York City's new tax, the highest in the nation at $3 per pack, the number of cigarettes sold in the city was cut almost in half, but cigarette tax revenue still increased tenfold, from $2.3 million last July to $23 million this July.

To achieve a sustained, long-term reduction in smoking, DC must also fund a comprehensive tobacco prevention program. Currently, DC only spends $1 million a year on tobacco prevention, just 13.4 percent of the $7.48 million a year the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the District spend to have an effective, comprehensive program. With a one-two punch of more prevention spending and a cigarette tax increase, DC could reduce smoking among both kids and adults, save lives, and save money for taxpayers by reducing smoking-caused health care costs.

We have conclusive evidence from states that have implemented comprehensive tobacco prevention programs that these programs not only reduce smoking and save lives, but also save taxpayers millions of dollars by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. States are saving as much as $3 in smoking-caused health care costs for every dollar spent on tobacco prevention. The District could expect similar savings. The evidence is clear that tobacco prevention is one of the smartest and most fiscally responsible investments that Washington, DC can make.

Tobacco's toll is devastating in Washington. 900 kids become regular, daily smokers every year, one-third of whom will die prematurely. Cigarette smoking will kill more than 700 Washingtonians this year. Tobacco use annually costs the city $402 million in health care expenses and lost productivity. A cigarette tax increase and comprehensive tobacco prevention program can help reduce these numbers.