(FRANKFORT, Ky - February 26, 2018) A new campaign focused on improving infant health and preventing youth smoking was launched today by a statewide coalition seeking a $1-per-pack increase in Kentucky's cigarette tax.
The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow says that raising Kentucky's cigarette excise tax from its current rate of 60 cents per pack to $1.60 will lead to 1,180 healthier newborns every year and prevent 23,200 Kentucky youth from becoming adult smokers. The increase also will lead 29,400 adults smokers to quit and prevent 14,800 premature deaths. And it will save $1.07 billion over the long term in health care costs in the Commonwealth.
"Isn't that worth a dollar more," asked Ben Chandler, chair of the Coalition and also president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. "The members of more than 150 organizations that have joined the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow certainly think so, as do seven in 10 Kentucky voters."
The December 2017 Mason Dixon poll found that 69 percent of Kentucky voters supported raising the cigarette tax by $1 per pack; support rose to 73 percent when respondents heard about the specific health benefits from the tax increase and the revenue it would generate. The poll also showed that support for the increase held strong across voters regardless of political party.
The Coalition campaign includes billboards, cable TV, digital and print advertising that will run through March across the state. It is paid for with funds raised by the Coalition, which was launched in October 2017. The Coalition now comprises more than 150 business, health, education, faith-based and advocacy organizations working together to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke in Kentucky.
The Coalition said it is focusing its campaign on the impact that the cigarette tax increase will have on infant and youth health because the smoking rates for pregnant women and high schoolers in Kentucky remain so high. Nearly 21 percent of Kentucky women smoke cigarettes during pregnancy - double the national rate. The rate exceeds 30 percent in 35 Kentucky counties, and 40 percent in four counties. Among high school-aged youth, 14.3 percent smoke, compared to a national rate of 8 percent.
The U.S. Surgeon General has called raising prices on cigarettes "one of the most effective tobacco control interventions" because a higher is proven to reduce smoking, especially among kids and teens, and among those with low incomes.
"The increase must be at least $1 per pack," said Amy Barkley, director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Kentucky and 12 other states. "Much less than that, and you'll lose the health benefits because, as experience in state after state shows, tobacco companies will undermine the price impact of a lesser tax increase with coupons and other discounts."
The average state tax on cigarettes is $1.72 per pack, as of January 2018. Kentucky's tax ranks 43rd lowest.
The campaign also reminds legislators and voters that Kentucky is the cancer capital of the nation. A greater proportion of people are diagnosed with, and die of, cancer in Kentucky than anywhere else in the nation. And smoking is tied to 34 percent of Kentucky cancer deaths, more than in any other state.
A dollar more on the cigarette tax would would be the "most impactful thing [legislators] could do to improve Kentucky's health in their lifetimes," said Dr. Jason Chesney, director of the Brown Cancer Center and Dr. Mark Evers, director of the Markey Cancer Center in Lexington, during testimony in Frankfort on Jan. 17. Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Ashli Watts testified in support of the tax increase at the January 17 hearing as well, saying that that the measure has the overwhelming support of Kentucky's business community.
"Raising Kentucky's cigarette tax by at least $1 per pack is a win for Kentucky health, a win for Kentucky business and a win for Kentucky's budget," Chandler said.
The ad campaign was created by Bandy Carroll Hellige in Louisville.
About the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow
The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow is committed to its mission of improving Kentucky's health by protecting Kentuckians from secondhand smoke and other tobacco emissions, and by reducing the high rate of smoking and tobacco use in the Commonwealth. For more information, please visit www.smokefreetomorrow.org.
The Coalition is led by representatives of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Baptist Health, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Council of Churches, Kentucky Equal Justice Center, Kentucky Health Collaborative, Kentucky Health Departments Association, Kentucky Hospital Association, Kentucky Medical Association, Kentucky Nurses Association, Kentucky School Boards Association, Kentucky Voices for Health and Kentucky Youth Advocates. Other partners and members of the Coalition represent a broad array of more than 145 groups, including Kentucky business leaders, health advocates, health care providers and payers, educators, and faith community leaders. See entire list on the Coalition website.
Bonnie J. Hackbarth