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Voters Increase Tobacco Taxes in Three States, Back Smoke-Free Air Measures Across the Nation

November 03, 2004

Washington, DC — Underscoring the strong public support for measures to reduce tobacco’s devastating toll, voters on Tuesday approved statewide ballot initiatives to increase tobacco taxes in Colorado, Montana and Oklahoma, as well as strong smoke-free workplace ordinances in communities across the nation. Voters approved all three statewide tobacco-related initiatives on this year’s ballots:

Colorado: By 61 percent to 39 percent, voters increased the state cigarette tax by 64 cents to 84 cents per pack and dedicated some of the new revenue to fund tobacco prevention programs, with the rest earmarked for other health-related programs.

Montana: By 65 percent to 35 percent, voters increased the state cigarette tax by $1 to $1.70 per pack and dedicated some of the revenue to health care programs. The measure also increased the tax on other tobacco products.

Oklahoma: By 53 percent to 47 percent, voters increased the state cigarette tax by 80 cents to $1.03 per pack, as well as taxes on other tobacco products. The revenue will fund various health-related programs. The Oklahoma victory came despite the fact that proponents of the initiative were outspent by opponents, funded largely by Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, who spent almost $2 million in an attempt to defeat the initiative.

Voters also passed or upheld smoke-free workplace laws in communities across the country, including Lincoln, Nebraska; Fargo and West Fargo, North Dakota; Columbus, Ohio; Wauseon, Ohio; Copperas Cove, Texas; and Winooski, Vermont. Voters also approved an advisory referendum in Wausau, Wisconsin, in support of making restaurants smoke-free.

“Voters across the nation, in communities large and small, have expressed their strong preference for protecting our kids and health, not the special interests of the tobacco industry,” said William V. Corr, Executive Director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Elected officials at all levels should heed the message of the voters, free themselves from the campaign contributions and political influence of the tobacco industry, and support proven measures to reduce tobacco use and protect everyone’s right to breathe clean, smoke-free air.”

In addition to the ballot initiatives, Delaware voters re-elected Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, who showcased her support for the state’s comprehensive smoke-free workplace law in her re-election campaign.

Tobacco Taxes: Increasing tobacco taxes is a win-win-win solution for states – a health win that reduces tobacco use and tobacco-caused disease, death and health care costs; a fiscal win that helps states fund important programs and balance budgets; and a political win that is popular with voters. The evidence is clear that increasing the price of cigarettes is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among children and pregnant women. Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking rates by about seven percent and overall cigarette consumption by about four percent. In addition, every state that has significantly increased its cigarette tax in recent years has enjoyed substantial increases in revenue even while reducing cigarette sales.

The Colorado, Montana and Oklahoma tobacco tax increases bring to 36 the number of states that have increased tobacco taxes since January 1, 2002, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. These actions have increased the average state cigarette tax from 43.4 cents to 84 cents per pack.

Smoke-free Workplace Laws: A growing number of states and communities have also been approving smoke-free workplace laws, which scientific studies and experience show protect the public’s right to breathe clean, smoke-free air without harming business.

Secondhand smoke is scientifically proven to cause lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other illnesses and is responsible nationally for thousands of deaths each year. Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals and 69 known carcinogens including formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, benzene and radioactive polonium 210. Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently advised persons with heart disease to avoid settings where smoking is allowed because of the risk that even short-term exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger heart attacks. Studies show that kids are especially vulnerable to other people’s smoke, suffering more respiratory problems, ear infections and asthma.

The evidence is overwhelming that smoke-free laws protect health without harming business. Dozens of studies and hard economic data have shown that smoke-free laws do not harm sales or employment in restaurants and bars and may even have a positive impact. Some of the strongest evidence comes from New York City, where a report found that, in the year after the city’s comprehensive smoke-free law took effect March 30, 2003, business receipts for restaurants and bars increased, employment rose, the number of liquor licenses increased, virtually all establishments are complying with the law, and the vast majority of New Yorkers support the law.

The growing evidence that secondhand smoke harms health, but smoke-free laws do not harm business, has spurred the growing, bipartisan momentum across the country to protect the public’s right to breathe clean air. Seven states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island – have now enacted comprehensive, statewide smoke-free laws. Florida, Idaho and Utah have passed smoke-free laws that exempt only stand-alone bars. A growing number of cities and counties across the country have taken action as well, including the communities that approved ballot initiatives on Tuesday.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in our nation, killing more than 400,000 people every year and costing more than $75 billion a year in health care bills. Every day, another 2,000 kids become regular smokers, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result.