July 19, 2007
The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee can take an important step to protect the health of America's children and save lives by approving proposed amendments to the FDA legislation that would increase the federal cigarette tax by 78 cents a pack in order to fund tobacco control programs, cancer research, and health care for the poor and elderly. Increasing the cigarette tax is a proven strategy to reduce smoking, especially among children. Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by seven percent and overall cigarette consumption by about four percent.
This is an important first step toward enactment of legislation to increase the federal cigarette tax for the first time since 1997.
"The cigarette tax is a proven strategy to protect thousands of kids from tobacco addiction," said William V. Corr, Executive Director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "A higher cigarette tax is a win-win solution - a health win that will reduce tobacco use and save lives and a financial win that will raise much-needed revenue to fund important programs while also reducing tobacco-caused health care costs."
A higher cigarette tax is a win-win-win solution for the country - a health win that will reduce tobacco use and save lives, a financial win that will raise revenue to help fund tobacco control and cancer research programs and a political win that is popular with voters. A recent poll conducted for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids found that 67 percent of voters support a 75-cent per pack increase in the federal cigarette tax, while only 28 percent oppose it. This support is evident among virtually every political and demographic subgroup of voters across the country, with large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independent, men and women, and urban and rural voters supporting the cigarette tax.
Research shows a clear health benefit from higher tobacco taxes. A 78-cent increase in the federal cigarette tax will prevent more than 2 million kids from ever starting to smoke, help more than 1.5 million adult smokers quit, prevent more than 1 million smoking-caused deaths and produce more than $50 billion in long-term health care savings.
Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have increased their cigarette taxes at least once since January 1, 2002 and the national average state cigarette tax is currently $1.04. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have cigarette tax rates of $1.00 or more and seven states have cigarette tax rates of $2.00 or more.
The current federal cigarette tax rate is 39 cents per pack. Congress has not enacted legislation increasing the federal cigarette tax since the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (which phased in a 15-cent increase in 2000 and 2002). As a result, after adjusting for inflation, the federal cigarette tax is currently lower than historical levels and much lower as a percentage of overall retail cigarette prices.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 people and costing more than $96 billion in health care bills each year. Currently, about 23 percent of high school students smoke and more than 1,000 kids become new regular smokers every day.
The national poll of 1,000 registered voters was conducted by the Mellman Group May 29- June 3, 2007 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
The Rest of the Story
If you guessed the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (TFK), you are wrong, at least partly.
This is actually a parody of press releases that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids did write. In fact, almost the entire text is copied verbatim from a number of press releases that TFK issued in support of increasing the federal cigarette excise tax to support a variety of health-related programs (source 1; source 2; source 3; source 4; source 5; source 6; source 7).
The only change that I made was the specifics about the specific legislative proposal in question, including the amount of the tax increase and the uses of the revenues. Specifically, this mock press release refers to two amendments being offered by Senator Enzi to the FDA tobacco legislation. Taken together, these amendments (Enzi amendments #5 and #7) would increase the federal cigarette tax by 78 cents per pack, with 50% of the resulting revenue going to support cancer research at the National Cancer Institute, 25% going to anti-smoking education and smoking cessation programs, and 12.5% going to both health care for the elderly (Medicare) and health care for the poor (Medicaid).
So why is this not a real press release?
Because the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids opposes this proposed increase in the cigarette tax by 78 cents per pack to protect the health of America's children, save lives, and fund life-saving cancer research and anti-smoking education and cessation programs.
How can TFK possibly oppose these amendments? After all, cigarette taxes are a win-win-win proposition. They protect the health of America's children. They save lives - millions of lives. And to boot, this particular proposal will generate funds for much-needed cancer research, tobacco education programs, and smoking cessation. Because the revenues would actually be used to further reduce smoking, this is actually a win-win-win-win proposition for the American people.
There is overwhelming public support for a 78 cent per pack cigarette tax increase, as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids itself has shown.
Moreover, this proposal would prevent more than 2 million kids from ever starting to smoke, help more than 1.5 million adult smokers quit, save more than 1 million lives, and produce more than $50 billion in long-term health care savings, according to TFK's own calculations.
As TFK itself has stated, "The cigarette tax is a proven strategy to protect thousands of kids from tobacco addiction. A higher cigarette tax is a win-win solution - a health win that will reduce tobacco use and save lives and a financial win that will raise much-needed revenue to fund important programs while also reducing tobacco-caused health care costs."
So how can TFK possibly oppose this proposal at the same time as it spews forth its abundant propaganda about how wonderful cigarette tax increases are?
And this proposal is even better than the one which TFK is actually supporting. That proposal will use the cigarette tax revenues to fund children's health insurance, which I have argued is a foolish idea, as it will make children's health care dependent upon high rates of consumption of cigarettes. That proposal, I have argued, is unfair and regressive. In contrast, Senator Enzi's proposal requires that the cigarette tax revenues be used to fund smoking-related programs, such as prevention, cessation, and treatment of smoking-related diseases. If anything, this proposal is far better than the one which TFK is actually supporting.
Moreover, President Bush has already indicated that he is going to veto the SCHIP bill. That legislation is dead in the water. But this bill has a really strong chance of passage, and it would be far more difficult for the president to veto this one.
The rest of the story is that once again, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has proven that it is full of rhetoric and propaganda, but that when it really comes down to it, the organization is not supporting a strategy that it says is a win-win-win proposition.
Even I - who opposes many of the recent cigarette tax increase proposals in many states, as well as the SCHIP bill - think that this proposal is a good one, as it will both save lives and directly benefit smokers by offering them support for smoking cessation services, research to benefit them, and medical treatment.
The bottom line is that this is really not about health. It is simply about politics. Apparently, the desire to put a feather in its cap is far more important than actually taking meaningful steps to protect the public's health.