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Health Groups Launch Ad Campaign Urging Mississippi Legislators to Raise Cigarette Tax to $1

Ad asks: 'Will these Mississippi Leaders stand with Mississippi Kids or Big Tobacco?'
February 11, 2009

Washington, D.C. — As a legislative conference committee prepares to consider an increase in Mississippi's cigarette tax, a coalition of public health organizations is launching a newspaper advertising campaign urging state legislators to increase the tax to $1 per pack. Such an increase would reduce smoking and generate more than $135 million in new revenue to help balance the budget and fund vital health care programs.

Health advocates are urging members of the legislative conference committee to support House Bill 364, which would increase the current 18-cent tax by 82 cents – bringing the total state cigarette tax to $1 per pack. Legislation approved by the Senate calls for an increase of only 32 cents. The ad specifically focuses on two leaders in the Legislature who are expected to be instrumental in developing the bill's final language – Senate Finance Chairman Dean Kirby and Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant. The ad asks: 'Will these Mississippi leaders stand with Mississippi kids or Big Tobacco?'

'By increasing Mississippi's cigarette tax to $1, we can prevent 26,300 kids from smoking and raise $135 million in new revenue to fund education and other vital programs during this financial crisis,' the ad states. 'Big Tobacco wants a much smaller cigarette tax that protects its profits but would mean more Mississippi kids start smoking and more people die of smoking-related diseases.'

Increasing the cigarette tax is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among kids. Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by about 7 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have increased cigarette taxes since January 1, 2002, some more than once, bringing the current average state cigarette tax to $1.19 a pack. Mississippi's current cigarette tax of 18 cents per pack ranks 49th lowest in the nation.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Mississippi can expect an 82-cent state cigarette tax increase to:

  • Generate $135 million in new revenue to help balance the budget and fund tobacco prevention and other vital health programs.
  • Prevent 26,300 Mississippi kids from becoming smokers.
  • Produce more than $745 million in long-term health care savings.
  • Save more than 15,400 Mississippi residents from premature, smoking-caused deaths.
  • Spur more than 19,500 current adult smokers to quit for good.

The ad campaign is sponsored by Communities for a Clean Bill of Health, a statewide coalition of healthcare advocates that includes the American Lung Association of Mississippi, American Heart Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

'Increasing the cigarette tax to $1 will deliver significant health and economic benefits that Mississippi residents need and deserve,' said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. 'We urge Mississippi's leaders to support this worthwhile legislation, which will prevent kids from smoking, improve health in Mississippi and save taxpayers money by reducing smoking-caused health care costs.'

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. In Mississippi, tobacco claims more than 4,700 lives each year and costs the state $719 million annually in health care bills, including $264 million in Medicaid payments alone. Currently, 23.9 percent of Mississippi adults smoke and government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $559 every year on every Mississippi household. More than 19 percent of Mississippi high school students smoke and 4,200 more kids become smokers every year.