Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Massachusetts Governor is Proposing $1 Increase in Tax on Cigarettes with No Increased Funding for Anti-Smoking Programs and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is SUPPORTING It; Now You Can See the Problem

According to a Reuters article, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick has proposed a $1 per pack increase in the state cigarette tax (bringing it from $2.51 to $3.51 per pack), with all funds placed into the general fund in order to fund education and transportation projects. Apparently, none of the additional revenues would be earmarked for the state's anti-smoking program, which has been decimated from $54 million in its heyday to just $4.5 million in 2013. And none of the additional revenues would be earmarked for treatment of smoking-related diseases.

This despite a new report from the New England Center for Investigative Reporting which revealed that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has diverted 99% of all its tobacco revenues to something other than the tobacco-related purposes for which they were originally intended.

According to an article in the North Andover Eagle-Tribune: "Millions of dollars originally intended for smoking cessation programs in Massachusetts have been diverted to offset budget deficits, leaving the state struggling to fund quit-smoking hotlines, treatment programs and anti-tobacco advertising, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting has found. The cutback in smoking cessation programs comes at a time when more than 9,000 Massachusetts residents die annually from smoking-related diseases and yearly health care costs associated with treating tobacco-related illnesses in the state have risen to $3.9 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control. ...

“Roughly 99 percent of all the tobacco dollars that come into the state are used for something else,” said Stephen Shestakofsky, recently retired executive director of Tobacco Free Massachusetts, an anti-tobacco advocacy group. He was referring to the nearly $254 million in tobacco-related legal awards given to Massachusetts in 2012. More than $561 million in tobacco taxes was also collected, bringing the state’s total tobacco tally to just over $815 million, the CDC reports. Of that $815 million in tobacco money, only about $4.2 million will be spent in 2013 on smoking cessation and prevention programs in Massachusetts, state health officials said."

The Rest of the Story

The worst part of the story is that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (and apparently other anti-smoking groups as well) support the proposal.

In a statement issued last week, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids called the proposal a "win-win-win" solution. And nowhere in its statement did it even suggest that part of the revenues should be used to bolster the state's anti-smoking campaign, which is at an embarrassingly low level.

Why is it that so few states are funding their anti-smoking programs at adequate levels? Part of the answer, believe it or not, is the actions of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

In the late 1990s, the Campaign made a decision to support increasing state cigarette taxes without tying those tax increases to smoking-related spending. The Campaign initiated campaigns throughout the country to increase cigarette taxes, but did not insist that the revenues be allocated for treatment of smoking-related diseases, research to prevent or cure smoking-related diseases, or anti-smoking education and prevention programs.

As a result, numerous tax increases were enacted with no tie to smoking-related programs. Thus, the public learned to dissociate the two. The public also learned to distrust policy makers because they failed to see the tobacco revenues being used for smoking-related purposes. They saw the revenues simply being plopped into the general fund.

Largely because of this, it is now very difficult to pass any cigarette tax increase as the public trust is not there. Moreover, the idea of using cigarette taxes for smoking programs has all but disappeared.

It is my belief that in no small way, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is responsible for the devastation of statewide tobacco control in the United States. The low allocation of state budget resources - especially cigarette tax revenues - for anti-smoking programs is very much the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' doing.

Not only is it devastating strategically to raise these taxes without tying the money to anti-smoking spending, but it also isn't fair. Why should smokers, who are disproportionately lower income, be singled out to bear the burden of helping the state pay its transportation debts? Why should smokers, who are disproportionately of lower education, be singled out to shoulder the burden of paying for educational improvements? Especially when smokers paying the taxes do not benefit directly from the resulting programs.

In contrast, when tax revenue is used to fund treatment for smoking-related diseases and research to help find better treatment or a cure for smoking-related disease, then at least those bearing the burden of the tax can potentially benefit from the programs that the revenue is funding.

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