Administration Disappoints in… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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Administration Disappoints in Rejecting Proposal to Increase Federal Cigarette Tax and Fund Smoking Cessation Initiative

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Vice President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
March 01, 2003

Washington, D.C. — We are disappointed that the Bush Administration has summarily rejected a proposal by its own expert advisory committee – the Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health – to increase the federal cigarette tax by $2 per pack in order to fund a comprehensive smoking cessation initiative. Politics and the special interests of the tobacco industry appear to have won out over sound, science-based public health policy that would save millions of lives. The committee estimates that its plan would prevent three million premature deaths and help five million smokers to quit. Without adequate resources, this will not happen.

President Bush and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson have rightly spoken out in support of preventive medicine, including smoking cessation, as one of the most effective strategies for improving the nation's health. Secretary Thompson challenged the interagency committee to be bold, and the committee, which includes the current and a former Surgeon General of the United States, responded by proposing a plan that presented the Administration with a tremendous opportunity to act on its stated commitment to disease prevention. Instead of matching its rhetoric with action, the Administration has rejected the cigarette tax increase without even reviewing the committee's proposal. As a result, the Administration to date has made no significant proposals to reduce tobacco use, which the President has publicly recognized is the nation's leading preventable cause of disease and death.

The committee's plan is based on scientifically proven strategies, it is practical, it can be implemented immediately, and it is paid for. In addition to raising the revenue needed to fund the rest of the plan, increasing the cigarette tax is proven to be one of the most effective ways to prevent kids from starting to smoke and spur adults to quit. Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes will reduce overall cigarette consumption by three to five percent and youth smoking by seven percent. Increasing the cigarette tax is also an appropriate way to pay for initiatives to reduce the tremendous financial burden imposed on all taxpayers by tobacco use, which costs the nation more than $75 billion a year in health care expenditures and at least $80 billion a year in lost productivity.

Cigarette tax increases are also strongly supported by the public. A poll conducted for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in October found that 61 percent of adults support a $2 increase in the federal cigarette tax when the money generated is used to prevent kids from smoking and help adults to quit using tobacco. Since January 1, 2002, 22 states and the District of Columbia have increased their cigarette taxes. Governors across the political spectrum, including Republicans, Democrats and Independents, have supported cigarette tax increases. It is unfortunate that all Americans will not see the benefits of what is both good public health policy and good fiscal policy.

The committee's plan dedicates much of the revenue generated by the cigarette tax increase to provide services that will directly benefit smokers. Its recommendations includes providing coverage for smoking cessation medication and counseling under federally-funded health care programs including Medicare and Medicaid, funding of a national quitline through which smokers could obtain cessation medication and counseling, the launch of an ongoing national media campaign to encourage smokers to quit, and encouragement of private health insurers to provide coverage for smoking cessation therapies. The plan also calls for a substantial new investment in research to improve the effectiveness, reach and adoption of tobacco dependence treatment and improved training and education of clinicians so they can better help their patients to successfully quit tobacco. In sum, it will make smoking cessation therapies more effective, more accessible and more affordable. Lower income individuals and certain ethnic and racial minorities, who are often targets of the tobacco industry and have the highest tobacco use rates, would benefit the most.