I’ve heard some opponents of Initiated Measure 25, the tobacco tax for vo-techs, say that raising the tobacco tax won’t make anyone quit smoking. But if that were true, why would Philip Morris spend $6 million to stop us from raising our tobacco tax?
The relationship between tobacco taxes and tobacco use is pretty well documented: raise taxes on smokes, and smoking rates decline:
…the experts agreed that there was sufficient evidence of effectiveness of increased tobacco excise taxes and prices in reducing overall tobacco consumption and prevalence of tobacco use and improvement of public health, including by preventing initiation and uptake among young people, promoting cessation among current users and lowering consumption among those who continue to use [Chaloupka, Straif, and Leon, “Effectiveness of Tax and Price Policies in Tobacco Control,” Tobacco Control, May 2011].
Health experts agree that raising taxes is the most effective way to reduce tobacco use. The U.S. surgeon general, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all concluded that raising taxes helps large numbers of smokers to quit and have loudly advocated doing so.
But many states — Missouri, Kentucky and Georgia among them — have not significantly increased their cigarette fees in decades, bowing to pressure from tobacco lobbyists and an ingrained antipathy among conservatives to raising taxes of any kind [William Wan, “Cigarette Taxes Are the Best Way to Cut Smoking, Scaring Big Tobacco,” Washington Post, 2017.10.21].
We might argue that IM 25 might not reduce smoking as much as other tobacco tax hikes because the new revenue is not being dedicated to smoking-cessation education. But the tobacco companies agree that, regardless of how we spend the money, higher tobacco taxes are the biggest threat to keeping their customers addicted:
Internal documents disclosed in lawsuits show how seriously tobacco companies perceive the threat of cigarette taxes, with several tobacco companies calling tax hikes the most alarming, existential threat they face. Over the years, those companies have invested heavily in conservative and libertarian political groups.
Because tobacco lobbyists hold sway over state lawmakers, health officials have tried in many states to bypass them, using ballot initiatives that put the decision in the hands of voters. But tobacco companies have managed to block those efforts, as well. Last year, three out of four tax increases were defeated at the polls, with tobacco companies outspending health groups at enormous ratios [Wan, 2017.10.21].
I have my own policy issues with IM 25, but both sides on this issue agree that adding a dollar per pack to the cost of cigarettes will lower rates of smoking.