Tobacco taxes have proven to be a major public policy success all across the US. Taxing cigarettes helps reduce cigarette smoking cigarettes (and other tobacco use) as it raises the revenue states need, so that states can afford to treat the illnesses tobacco use causes.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) regards raising tobacco prices as a best practice in reducing smoking cigarettes – the leading preventable cause of death and disease nationally – because those higher prices keep people from smoking cigarettes – and that saves lives and hundreds of millions in healthcare costs each year.
Each year, smoking cigarettes costs the Rhode Island economy more than $1.2 billion, according to a recent study commissioned by the American Lung Association. The average price of a pack of cheap cigarettes is $8.12 while the cost to the state per pack is $31.20 – nearly 400 percent more than smokers pay.
Rhode Island has the second highest cigarette tax in the nation. We also have the third lowest youth smoking cigarettes rate and the fifth lowest adult smoking cigarettes rate in the US. This is not a coincidence.
As cigarette taxes climbed in the early 2000s from $.71 to $3.46, consumption declined markedly. Rhode Island’s youth smoking cigarettes rate decreased 62 percent between 1997 and 2008. According to an economic analysis conducted by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, every ten percent increase in cigarette prices reduces youth smoking cigarettes by approximately seven percent and total cigarette consumption by four percent.
Rhode Islanders fought hard for cigarette tax increases over time, and as a result, we’ve seen significant reductions in smoking cigarettes initiation, cigarette consumption, and exposure to secondhand smoke. What’s more, these taxes have become a vital financial resource for our state and, unlike some taxes, enjoy overwhelming public support.
But there are still 1,600 Rhode Islanders who die from smoking cigarettes each year. Nearly all of them began smoking cigarettes before age 18.
Rhode Island’s tobacco tax has been a win-win for the Rhode Island and Rhode Islanders. Fewer smokers, fewer kids with a disgusting, expensive, deadly habit – and a state better able to afford its health care costs.
Why be second best? Let’s keep the tobacco tax as it is, and help make Rhode Island the healthiest state in the union.
Dr. Michael Fine is the Interim Director of HEALTH