It's no surprise that the tobacco industry is choking on President Obama’s budget proposal, part of which would raise the federal cigarette tax by 94 cents a pack to help pay for preschool education. The federal tax on a pack of cigarettes would increase from $1.01 to $1.95.
It’s a good idea that would not only raise revenue for needed programs, but also save money on the nation’s health care costs. Ohio should also consider raising its $1.25-a-pack tax.
Among the zingers by company representatives is the claim that it’s unfair to aim higher taxes at smokers because they generally have lower incomes than nonsmokers.
If only Big Tobacco were as sensitive to their customers in regard to tobacco-related diseases. The lower median household income of an adult smoker, $27,000 in 2011, is also far less able to cope with the medical bills caused by cigarettes than the $45,761 median income of nonsmokers.
Smoking is the nation’s single most preventable cause of death, disease, and disability. In Ohio, tobacco kills an estimated 18,500 people a year and costs the state more than $4 billion in health-care costs.
Raising taxes on smokes would decrease the use of tobacco, especially among young people. In Ohio, nearly 17,000 teens, who would be especially sensitive to a price increase, start smoking each year.
Among states, Ohio is about in the middle of the pack on cigarette taxes. New York has the highest state cigarette tax at $4.35. In New York City, smokers pay nearly $12 per pack.
Since 2002, states have increased their cigarette tax rates more than 100 times. Even so, an estimated 46 million adults in the United States smoke.
The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office says that a 50-cent tax increase would push 1.4 million adult smokers to give up cigarettes by 2021. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids estimates that the 94-cent increase would keep 1.7 million children from becoming cigarette addicts.
Even apart from enrolling more children into all-important preschool, this proposed tax comes with benefits. The President and Congress should try to get it on the books, regardless of how the rest of the budget develops. Ohio legislators should consider it too.