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Ohio Voters Prefer Raising Tobacco Tax to Raiding Tobacco Endowment to Fund Stimulus

New Poll: Nearly Two-thirds of Ohio Voters Support Tobacco Tax to Fund
April 30, 2008

Washington, D.C. — As the Ohio legislature acts to abolish tobacco prevention in the state, a new survey released today shows that nearly two-thirds of Ohio voters support a 75-cent increase in the state cigarette tax, with even greater support for increasing the tax on other tobacco products, to help fund the proposed economic stimulus package and fully fund Ohio's tobacco prevention efforts. The poll also found that, by a nearly two to one margin, voters prefer paying for the stimulus package with a cigarette tax increase rather than by taking money from the Ohio tobacco prevention fund, as Governor Ted Strickland and legislative leaders have proposed.

The poll of 607 Ohio voters was released today by the American Heart Association, American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided funding for the survey. Key findings include:

  • 65 percent of Ohio voters support a 75-cent increase in the state cigarette tax to fund the economic stimulus package and fully fund Ohio's tobacco prevention efforts. Support for the increase crosses virtually all demographic and political groups in the state, as large majorities of Republicans (70 percent), Democrats (64 percent) and independents (65 percent) support increasing the cigarette tax to fund tobacco prevention.
  • When asked explicitly to choose among three options to help pay for the stimulus package - the 75-cent cigarette tax increase, taking money from the tobacco prevention fund or finding revenue sources other than these - the cigarette tax increase receives by far the most support. In fact, it gets as much support as the other two options combined. Forty-five percent of voters prefer increasing the cigarette tax, compared to 24 percent who prefer using the tobacco prevention fund and 21 percent who would use other sources.
  • Ohio currently taxes cigars and smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco at a lower rate than cigarettes. Seventy-three percent of voters support correcting the inequity between the cigarette tax and the tax on other tobacco products and using the revenue to fund tobacco prevention programs.

'The overwhelming voter support for the tobacco tax is yet another reason Ohio's leaders should consider this alternative to decimating Ohio's highly successful tobacco prevention program', said Cresha Auck, Director, Government Relations, American Heart Association of Ohio. 'Not only is the tobacco tax a win for Ohio's health and economy; it's a political win for policy makers.'

Added Beverly May, Regional Advocacy Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 'Ohio does not have to choose between job creation and saving lives from tobacco use. Raising the tobacco tax will help accomplish both, and Ohio voters clearly support it.'

The poll follows a report released last week by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids projecting significant health and revenue benefits from increasing the tobacco tax instead of raiding the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation's endowment. Download the report (PDF, 302 KB).

Support for raising the tobacco tax to fund tobacco prevention and the stimulus package is not surprising given the poll's findings that 72 percent of Ohio voters are concerned about tobacco use by young people, and 76 percent think Ohio's tobacco prevention and cessation programs should be funded at the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The poll also found that support for the economic stimulus package declines precipitously when voters learn it would be funded in part by taking money from the tobacco prevention fund. While only about a third of voters (34 percent) have heard of the economic stimulus package, 78 percent support and only 12 percent oppose it when the plan and its projected benefits are initially described without mentioning how it would be funded.

However, when asked if they approve of taking most of the remaining tobacco settlement funds to help pay for the economic stimulus plan, voters are divided with 50 percent approving and 43 percent disapproving. In fact, those who strongly disapprove outnumber those who strongly approve by 24 percent to 22 percent. In contrast, as outlined above, Ohio voters clearly support increasing the cigarette tax (65 percent to 29 percent) and reject using tobacco prevention funds to pay for the stimulus package when presented with the tobacco tax as an alternative.

Said pollster Robert Clegg, 'Voters strongly support both tobacco prevention and job creation. They are understandably torn when forced to choose between the two, so it's no surprise that they are much more supportive of the tobacco tax alternative. Politicians can heed the wishes of the vast majority of Ohio voters by using the tobacco tax to fund these initiatives.'

On April 2, Governor Strickland and legislative leaders proposed taking $230 million of the Foundation's remaining endowment of $270 million to help fund an economic stimulus package. On April 9, the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality and legality of the emergency law. The following day, Judge David W. Fais of the Franklin County Common Pleas Court ordered the Foundation's money frozen. The next hearing is scheduled for May 8.

In 2000, Ohio created the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation to receive a portion of the $300 million in annual tobacco settlement funds and implement tobacco prevention and cessation programs. Since then, however, Ohio leaders have diverted annual settlement payments from the Foundation, securitized (sold to investors) future settlement payments, effectively denying the Foundation any additional settlement funds, and are now attempting to take virtually all of what's left of the Foundation's previously allocated funds. Despite collecting more than a billion dollars in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes this year, Ohio has allocated none of it to tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

The Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation has a strong record of success. The Foundation's programs have helped reduce smoking by 47 percent among middle school students and by 38 percent among high school students since 2000. Adult smoking in the state has declined as well, with 22.4 percent of Ohio adults reporting that they smoked in 2007, down from 26.3 percent in 2000.

The survey of 607 registered Ohio voters was conducted April 16-17, 2008 by Midwest Communications and Media. The survey has an overall margin of error of +/- 4.0 percentage points. The margin of error is higher for subgroups. All total numbers are rounded to the nearest percentage. Get more information on the poll results.