The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and several other anti-smoking groups have put forward the argument that instead of funding early childhood education as a budget priority, the federal government should tie education for low-income children to continued high levels of cigarette tax revenue.
These organization recently called for the expansion of early childhood education. But instead of suggesting that early childhood education is a budget priority that should be funded with existing revenue or by increasing taxes on the wealthy and on corporations, they argued that for poor children, such education should be tied to continuing high levels of cigarette sales, which would garner the tax revenues that they recommend using to pay for such education.
Among the organizations making the recommendation that early childhood education for low-income children should be tied to cigarette sales were the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The Rest of the Story
In a sense, this is a perverse policy because it ties the future
funding of early childhood education for low-income children to
continued high levels of cigarette smoking. As such, it also reduces the
incentive for the federal government to take any action which would
substantially decrease cigarette sales. Any such intervention would
threaten the solvency of the early childhood education program. In fact,
the creation of this program of cigarette sales-dependent early
childhood education nearly ensures that the government will not take any
action to severely curtail smoking rates.
cigarette revenue should be used for is comprehensive tobacco control
programs in all 50 states. These programs should include anti-smoking
media campaigns, like the "truth" campaign. They should also include
programs devoted to reducing the burden of smoking in communities of
color. They should include the dissemination of "Pathways to Freedom" to
every African American smoker. And they should focus on reducing
disparities in smoking-related disease, not just in reducing the overall
rates of smoking.
Addressing the problem of the nation's budget woes by balancing the
budget on the backs of smokers, in the face of the decimation of the
nation's tobacco control program and the absence of any significant
government-funded services available to benefit smokers (including programs
to encourage kids not to smoke and to help adults to quit), and in the
presence of other viable options for raising the needed revenue such as
taxing the wealthiest of the state's citizens or corporations, is not an appropriate public health policy.
What these anti-smoking groups are calling for is reaping $7 billion a year in additional revenues
from smokers so that the government does not have to take any politically less popular
measures to finance its budget (such as raising taxes on the wealthiest
of citizens and corporations, rather than the poorest residents).
Rather than trying to restore the nation's tobacco prevention and cessation
services, the health groups are essentially acting as accomplices in the
decimation of tobacco control by accepting its demise and not calling for the massive
proposed cigarette tax increase to be used, at least in part, to restore
the program and services.
And this opportunity will not arise
again any time soon. You don't have too many opportunities to raise
taxes these days, so if you are going to do it, you ought to be pretty
darn careful about how you choose to allocate the revenues. If you
aren't spending the money, at least in part, to benefit those who are
shouldering the burden of the payments, then the tax is truly regressive
As Dr. Richard Wagner stated in his report critical of the use of tobacco taxes to fund state budget shortfalls: "Tobacco
taxation is a severe form of tax discrimination whose victims reside
primarily among the working classes and not professional people. It is
tax discrimination against people of modest means for the benefit of the
I think this discriminatory effect can be
mitigated by allocating the revenues from the tax to benefit those who
are paying the tax (such as providing for cessation services, tobacco
prevention programs, smoking education, medical treatment for
smoking-related diseases, and increased research on treatments for the
diseases which we are so dismal in treating). However, this is not what
the health groups are calling for. Instead, they seem content to have
the money used simply to balance the budget, and to allow the decimated
state tobacco control programs to remain in shambles.
The rest of the story is that the actions of these anti-smoking groups is a major victory for the wealthiest corporations and citizens, who are now protected from having to do their share to make
up for the budget shortfall, or misplaced priorities, that denies early childhood education for lower-income children.