As a certified nurse-midwife, I see the negative effects of smoking on women and babies on a daily basis. Twenty-four percent of women in Kentucky smoke, giving us the distinction of being ranked the 49th-worst state in the nation. Fifteen percent of pregnant women in Kentucky smoke.
Tobacco-exposed pregnancies result in increased rates of miscarriage, fetal death, stillbirth, preterm birth, low birth-weight, respiratory problems in newborns and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Low birth-weight, preterm babies require extended stays in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit which costs, on average, $3,000 per day.
The health care resources required to care for babies with tobacco-attributed medical problems cost Medicaid an average of $738 per pregnant smoker.
When I speak with pregnant women about smoking cessation, the vast majority understand its negative consequences. Some are able to quit smoking, but others struggle. With tears in their eyes, they talk about life stressors such as difficult work schedules, transportation issues, lack of social support, problems with child care or housing concerns.
They are fully aware that smoking is harmful for their unborn baby but find it incredibly difficult to stop smoking due to anxiety and addiction to tobacco.
It is easy for the public to judge a pregnant woman who smokes, but step back and take a look at the bigger picture. First, if you have seen or heard commercials from the corrective advertising campaign that a federal court ordered the major tobacco companies to begin airing on Nov. 26, you know that these companies intentionally manipulated the level of nicotine in cigarettes to make them more addictive. That’s why quitting smoking can be so hard.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco companies continue to spend $8.9 billion a year on advertising and promotion. What is a proven method to decrease the rate of smoking despite these tobacco industry tactics? Higher taxes on cigarettes.
The research shows that, when the price of a pack of cigarettes reaches a certain price, many smokers are finally able to either reduce their smoking or quit.
Kentucky has one of the lowest taxes on cigarettes of any state in the nation at only 60 cents per pack. By comparison, New York has a tax of $4.35 per pack and touts one of the lowest rates of smoking in the country.
While 24.5 percent of Kentuckians smoke, all of us foot the bill for health-care expenses related to smoking. Medical expenses for tobacco-related illnesses are estimated at $19.16 per pack.
The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow is asking Kentucky lawmakers to increase Kentucky’s cigarette tax by at least $1 per pack. The average cigarette tax in the U.S. is $1.71 per pack. Given a $1 increase, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids estimates that 5,900 babies would be born healthier over a 5-year period.
Kentucky also could save $31.6 million in medical costs over five years. As lawmakers work to solve the pension crisis, this tax could increase state revenue by $266.2 million.
Kentucky is the overall cancer capital of the nation, and we have the highest rate of lung-cancer deaths related to smoking. Thirty-four percent of all cancer deaths in the commonwealth are attributed to smoking. Because of cigarettes, we also have some of the highest rates of heart disease and stroke in the country.
With a $1 tax increase, we can expect an 11.2-percent decrease in youth smoking — that’s 23,200 fewer youth who would become adult smokers.
A $1 cigarette tax increase has overwhelming support from a variety of organizations including hospitals, medical groups, major universities and the business community.
For the health of the commonwealth, the time to act is now. Contact your legislators and let them know that you support a $1 cigarette tax increase.
Kendra Adkisson is a certified nurse-midwife with Kentucky One Health.