Governor Doyle’s Historic Proposal Will Reduce Smoking and Save Lives in Wisconsin

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
January 24, 2007

Washington, DC — We applaud Governor Jim Doyle for his leadership and foresight in announcing a comprehensive proposal today to combat the number one preventable cause of death and disease - tobacco use. This proposal will improve both the physical and financial health of Wisconsin for generations to come by reducing smoking, saving lives and reducing smoking-caused health care costs. Governor Doyle’s proposal would make Wisconsin a national leader in combating tobacco use by implementing all three of the most effective policies to reduce smoking: a higher cigarette tax, well-funded programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit, and a strong smoke-free workplace law that includes restaurants and bars.

Governor Doyle’s proposal calls for increasing the state’s below average cigarette tax by $1.25 cents per pack with revenue dedicated to Wisconsin’s tobacco prevention and cessation program and other health programs. These measures, combined with his proposal for a strong smoke-free workplace law that protects all Wisconsin workers and the public from the serious health harms of secondhand smoke, will deliver the maximum health and economic benefits for Wisconsin. These steps will reduce smoking, save lives, save taxpayers money by reducing smoking-caused health care costs and protect everyone’s right to breathe clean, smoke-free air.

Science and experience have shown that increasing the cigarette tax is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking among both youth and adults. In fact, every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes will reduce youth smoking by seven percent and overall cigarette consumption by four percent. The benefits will be even greater, and will continue to increase over the long-term, if the new revenue is used to fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs at the levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC recommends that Wisconsin spend a minimum of $31.2 million a year on tobacco prevention programs, but the state currently spends only $10 million.

Wisconsin’s current cigarette tax of 77 cents per pack is below the average state cigarette tax of $1 dollar per pack. Twenty-two states have cigarette tax rates of $1.00 or more and six states have cigarette tax rates of $2 or more. Nearby Chicago currently has the highest tax rate in the country at $3.66 in combined state, county, and city taxes.

Implementing a strong smoke-free workplace is also critical because the need for protection from secondhand smoke in ALL workplaces and public places has never been clearer. In issuing his groundbreaking report last June, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona stated, “The debate is over. The science is clear: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard that causes premature death and disease in children and nonsmoking adults.” The Surgeon General found that secondhand smoke is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, serious respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome. The Surgeon General also found that secondhand smoke is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the United States each year and that there is no risk-free level of exposure.

There is overwhelming evidence from smoke-free states and cities around the country that smoke-free laws protect health without harming business. As the U.S. Surgeon General concluded in his June 2006 report on secondhand smoke, “Evidence from peer-reviewed studies shows that smoke-free policies and regulations do not have an adverse impact on the hospitality industry.” As a result, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and 16 states have passed smoke-free laws that include restaurants and bars. The states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in Wisconsin, claiming more than 7,300 lives each year and costing the state $2 billion annually in health care bills, including $480 million in Medicaid payments alone. Government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $603 each year on every Wisconsin household. Currently, 22.8 percent of Wisconsin high school students smoke and 8,200 more kids become regular smokers every year.

We applaud the leadership Governor Doyle has shown today with his initiative to reduce tobacco use and improve the health of Wisconsin kids and families. We look forward to the Governor and Legislature working together to approve a significant cigarette tax increase, full funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs and a strong statewide smoke-free workplace law that covers restaurants and bars. In doing so, they can leave a legacy of improved health and reduced health care costs for generations to come.