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Will cigarette $1 tax increase snuff out smoking?

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
January 6, 2008
— Since Wisconsin’s additional $1 tax on cigarettes kicked in Jan. 1, even the cheapest pack of smokes at the Cigarette Depot costs more than a 12 pack of diet pop.

More than a fast-food value meal.


More than a gallon of gas.


“Give me a pack of the cheapest things you’ve got,” a customer requested Wednesday morning.


“That’ll be $3.59,’’ owner/operator John Lindaas replied.


Most of the adults The Janesville Gazette spoke to said they won’t quit but will smoke less or switch to a cheaper brand to save money.


“I’m quitting,’’ said one customer, who bought what he said would be his last two packs of cigarettes.


Others who went through the drive-through or walked into the Milton Avenue store said they knew they should quit for their health and their pocketbooks but admitted that even the extra tax isn’t enough to snuff their habit.


That includes a 56-year-old man, who pulled out a credit card to pay for his four cartons.


Total: $171.52.


“I’ve been smoking since I was 9. I tried quitting. I was successful, once, then had to go back to work,’’ said the man, who asked to remain anonymous.


Lindaas said New Year’s Eve—the day before the extra tax kicked in—was a record-breaker for cigarette sales. He said it was the peak of a rise in sales that started a month earlier.


“Customers were buying 25 to 30 cartons and spending $400 to $500 a week for four weeks trying to stock up before the (tax) increase,” he said.


Lindaas said bargain shoppers now might drive to Illinois to buy their cigarettes, but he said they won’t save much if they’re burning $3-a-gallon gas.


Debbie Fischer, director of Rock County Youth2Youth, a youth organization whose primary focus is prevention, said Wisconsin’s $1 tax increase will help prevent people from starting smoking and help people quit.


The state’s per-pack tax now totals $1.77, which is 12th highest in the nation. The additional tax is projected to increase Wisconsin tax revenue $104.4 million a year, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.


Fischer said the new tax revenue will be used to help fund health care—BadgerCare and Medicaid—in addition to helping people quit smoking.


“As of Jan. 1, people who call the Quit Line (1-800-QUIT-NOW) can get a two-week supply of pharmaceutical assistance—a starter kit with nicotine patches, gum or lozenges—for free until supplies are gone,’’ she said.


Wisconsin lawmakers originally proposed a $1.25 tax increase but passed the $1 increase in November, Fischer said.


“Our government felt this would help the health of Wisconsin residents and youth from ever starting to smoke,” she said.


Research, Fischer said, has proven that it will.


“This is a win-win for our state. It’s all about the health of our residents from the young to the old,” Fischer said.


“If you can get it so youth are not able to afford it (tobacco), then they’re not even going to consider it,” she said. “It’s not the answer but definitely part of the answer.”


What smokers had to say

Mitch Hernandez, 33, Janesville—“I’ve been smoking since I was 12, smoke a pack and a half a day, and have been considering quitting just for health reasons. If the money is going to help out that’s great. If not, that sucks. Taxes are taxes.”


Al Button, 37, Janesville—“I’ve smoked for 17 years. I won’t quit, but will cut back on my pack and a half a day due to the cost.’’


David Keough, 33, Beloit—“I smoke a pack a day and have been smoking since I was 18 or 19. I’ll probably quit. It’s getting too expensive.”


Daryl Maasz, 40, Janesville—“I’ve been smoking for 27 years and smoke two packs a day. When I started they were 50 cents a pack. I should quit because of health reasons—asthma--but I don’t think I will. I’m not ready to quit. In my opinion, they should have raised taxes on food so everybody pays, not only the smoker.”


A 23-year-old Janesville man—“I’ve smoked since I was 18. I think the government is getting greedy. I smoke less than a pack a day and will reduce my smoking. I just eventually want to quit because my Dad had emphysema and lung cancer.”


Projected cigarette tax increase benefits
$104.4 million

Additional Wisconsin cigarette tax revenues each year
96.2 million

Decline in packs of cigarettes sold annually in Wisconsin
26,000

Decrease in Wisconsin youth smokers
13,100

Fewer adult smokers in Wisconsin
8,300

Wisconsin kids saved from early smoking-related death
$6.2 million

Five-year healthcare savings in Wisconsin from fewer smoking-affected pregnancies and births
$6.4 million

Five-year healthcare savings in Wisconsin from fewer smoking-caused heart attacks and strokes
Source: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

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