Cigarette tax is about saving lives, money

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Maureen Busalacchi
Thursday, November 8, 2007

We appreciate your coverage of one of the more important public health policies in the new state budget—reducing tobacco use and a $1 increase in the price of cigarettes.

The reaction to the increase in the cigarette tax, however, suggests that many readers miss the point of why the increase is important. Or they haven’t heard the facts.

The tax isn’t about the money it brings in. It’s about the lives and the money it saves. Pure and simple.

Gov. Jim Doyle put it best. He said he hopes we don’t collect any money from the cigarette tax in the future because no one will smoke. That’s unrealistic, of course. But he’s on point. The evidence from other states with similar increases is clear: The tax increase will result in about 100,000 fewer smokers, two-thirds of them today’s children who won’t ever get stared smoking.

Critics skew the math. They focus on what the tax brings in (or doesn’t bring in). But they miss—or purposely ignore—what smoking costs taxpayers. It is enormous.

Last year, the state (yes, that’s you the taxpayer) paid $480 million in Medicaid bills to treat low-income smokers who got sick. And that’s just what you paid in taxes to treat smokers.

You and your employers also paid more than $1 billion in health care premiums to treat smokers’ tobacco-related diseases in Wisconsin. The reality is that one in three smokers eventually gets sick—very sick. And we all pay their health care bills.

The math is pretty straightforward. If everyone would quit, as Gov. Doyle suggested, we would save thousands of lives as well as half a billion in tax dollars each year and more than a billion in health care dollars.

Even if the tax doesn’t generate the money that is predicted, taxpayers are still money ahead. And if you think paying extra health insurance to treat smokers is a “tax,” we’re really money ahead.

Smokers’ hostile reactions are understandable. But the tax is not about “punishing sin” or taxing smokers because they’re an easy target.

In fact, health advocates go out of their way not to blame or target smokers. Nicotine is as addictive as heroin—and the average smoker in this state lit the first cigarette at age 11. That means smokers got addicted before they knew any better—and it also means quitting is very hard.

That’s why the tax increase is so important. Raising the price of cigarettes is extremely effective, wise and a simple health care policy that saves lives, helps children and saves taxpayers’ money.

If you are a smoker, we know that most of you want to quit. Let us help! Services are available through most health insurance and Medicaid. In addition, the tobacco control program helps to fund the quit line, 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

We all win when smokers quit and kids never start. Thank you state Legislature and fovernor for doing the right thing.

Maureen Busalacchi is executive director of Smoke Free Wisconsin, representing Wisconsin’s health and medical organizations. Address 401 Wisconsin Ave., Madison, WI 53703; phone (608) 268-2620; e-mail sfw@smokefreewi.org; Web site www.smokefreewi.org.

Last updated: 11:37 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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