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New Report Shows South Carolina Can Save Lives and Taxpayer Money With 93-Cent Cigarette Tax Increase

South Carolina Would Also Raise More Than $220 Million in New Revenue Each Year
April 11, 2007

Columbia, SC — As South Carolina legislators consider life-saving cigarette tax increase legislation, a Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids report released today finds that increasing the state's cigarette tax to the national average would dramatically reduce youth smoking, cause many adult smokers to quit, reduce tobacco-related healthcare expenses and save tens of thousands of lives. According to the report, South Carolina would experience significantly greater health and economic benefits by increasing the cigarette tax by 93 cents a pack, to the national average, than by the 30 cents per pack proposal being considered today by the House Ways and Means Committee.

The 32-page report titled 'Tobacco Tax Choices for South Carolina: Continue Subsidizing Smoking or Reduce Smoking, Save Lives and Cut Costs' finds that a 93-cent cigarette tax increase would prevent some 60,000 kids alive today from becoming smokers; spur more than 31,000 current adult smokers to quit; and save 27,000 South Carolina citizens from premature, smoking-caused deaths. A 93-cent increase would also raise more than $220 million in new revenue each year and produce $1.3 billion in long-term health care savings. The report was compiled by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and is endorsed by the South Carolina Tobacco Collaborative, the United Way Association of South Carolina and the South Carolina Hospital Association.

'This report provides further evidence that increasing South Carolina's cigarette tax to at least the national average will improve both the physical and financial health of South Carolina for generations to come. A 93-cent cigarette tax increase will significantly reduce smoking, save lives and reduce smoking-caused health care costs,' said William V. Corr, Executive Director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. 'South Carolinians overwhelmingly support this measure because they know that it will prevent kids from starting to smoke, help smokers quit and save thousands of lives.'

A 93-cent increase would boost South Carolina's lowest-in-the-nation 7-cent per pack cigarette tax to $1.00. The average state cigarette tax is currently $1.02 a pack, but is continually increasing as several states are taking action on cigarette tax increases.

Representative Rex Rice (R-Easley) has proposed increasing the cigarette tax by 30 cents per pack, which would keep the tax well below the national average. This would generate significantly fewer health and financial benefits for the state. As compared to a 30-cent increase, a 93-cent increase would prevent 41,200 additional kids from becoming smokers; spur 21,600 additional adults to quit; save 18,900 additional lives, raise an extra $128 million in revenue each year, and produce $926 million more in long-term health care savings.

'While South Carolina's leaders have the right idea about raising the state's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax, they should increase the tax to at least the national average in order to realize the significant health and economic benefits that will follow,' said Dr. James Hébert, Director of the Statewide Cancer Control and Prevention Program and the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. 'The growing number of states that have raised their cigarette taxes in recent years represents important progress toward reducing the devastating toll of tobacco in our country. It's now South Carolina's turn to join this movement to keep our kids from smoking, improve health and save lives.'

The bill being considered today would increase the state's cigarette tax by 30 cents to 37 cents per pack; allocate 5% of the revenue to DHEC's youth smoking prevention and cessation program; expand Medicaid coverage from 50% to 100% of the poverty level; and reduce the tax on unprepared foods.

Tim Ervolina, President of the United Way Association of South Carolina, added, 'South Carolina lawmakers have the rare opportunity for a legislative tri-fecta: provide health care for those who can't afford it, reduce the regressive and unjust tax on food and take real steps toward reducing tobacco use. What's not to like?'

A total of 43 states have increased their cigarette taxes in recent years, including the tobacco-growing states of Kentucky, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina.

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 by about seven percent and overall cigarette consumption by about four percent. In recent years, every state that has significantly increased its cigarette tax has enjoyed significant increases in revenue even while reducing cigarette sales.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in South Carolina, claiming more than 5,900 lives each year and costing the state more than $1.09 billion annually in health care bills, including $393 million in Medicaid payments alone. Government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $578 each year on every South Carolina household. While South Carolina has made significant progress in reducing youth smoking, 23.5 percent of South Carolina high school students are still current smokers, and 6,500 more kids become regular smokers every year.