Deborah Swanson, Grand Forks, column: Raise taxes on tobacco to improve public health

One of the most effective public health interventions is increasing tobacco taxes to reduce youth consumption. Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by 7 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent.

GRAND FORKS — Nov. 18 was the Great American Smoke Out, an event held each year to encourage smokers to quit for a day or quit for life.

While this worthy event has been in existence for many years, policies and the science of tobacco addiction have changed a great deal. Public health experts have proven that in addition to helping people quit smoking, more needs be done to prevent kids from starting.

Smoke-free laws have been successful at “denormalizing” tobacco use (after all, tobacco is the only product that, when used as intended, kills), and public education campaigns have been successful at countering the effects of tobacco industry marketing tactics.

Unfortunately, despite legal and regulatory measures, the tobacco industry finds ways to attract children to its products.

One of the most effective public health interventions is increasing tobacco taxes to reduce youth consumption. Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by 7 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent.

Given the impact of a tobacco tax on youth smoking rates, we need to think of a tobacco tax in North Dakota as a vaccination against the disease of tobacco addiction.

We use every tool at our disposal to ensure that every child is vaccinated from disease. It makes sense to use the policy arena to prevent children from choosing a life of addiction to tobacco.

According to the North Dakota Department of Health, cigarette smoking among youth in grades 9-12 in North Dakota declined significantly from 40.6 percent in 1999 to 22.1 percent in 2007 — but the rate increased slightly in 2009 to 22.4 percent.

This increase occurred despite robust youth prevention programs.

The current tobacco tax North Dakota is just 44 cents per pack of cigarettes. This rate has remained unchanged since 1993. The average state tobacco tax on a pack of cigarettes is $1.45.

North Dakota ranks 45th among the states, and most of the states that rank lower grow tobacco as a significant crop.

For anyone who needs proof of just how far behind North Dakota has fallen among all states in increasing tobacco taxes during the past decade, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (www.rwjf.org) has an interactive map that demonstrates this finding.

As the map shows, North Dakota joins tobacco producing states Virginia and North Carolina and Southern states Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri and Louisiana in the lowest tier for cigarette tax rates.

North Dakota can do better. According to the Center for Tobacco Free Kids, with an increase of $2 per pack, North Dakota would get $28 million in new annual revenue.

Tobacco’s toll in North Dakota includes 600 new youth smokers, 800 resident deaths per year, $247 million in health care costs, $47 million in Medicaid health care costs and $571 per household in state and federal tax burden.

We all pay for tobacco’s impact.

Many states have achieved significant declines in both youth and adult smoking rates by increasing tobacco taxes. The New York Legislature took a major step this year to save lives and protect public health by increasing the state’s cigarette tax by $1.60 to a total of $4.35 a pack. The increase, which makes New York’s cigarette tax the first to top $4 per pack, will mean fewer smokers, more revenue and healthier futures for the thousands of kids who never will try smoking as a result.

New York has experienced a dramatic decline in tobacco use rates among youth as the tobacco tax has incrementally increased.

Increasing tobacco taxes is not about penalizing smokers; it’s about protecting the health of future generations from tobacco addition. North Dakota legislators would be wise to make an investment in the health of our children by increasing the state cigarette tax by $2 or more per pack of cigarettes.

We can and should join other states in recognizing the harm incurred by tobacco use with an appropriate cigarette tax rate.

source: grandforksherald.com

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