The following is a statement from the Coalition for a Smoke-free Tomorrow
on the Kentucky House of Representatives’ proposed 50-cent tobacco tax increase:
The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow appreciates that the House of Representatives is considering an increase in Kentucky’s cigarette tax as part of its budget proposal, but an increase of only 50 cents is too small to save lives, reduce smoking rates among youth and pregnant women, and protect unborn babies.
A significant cigarette tax increase of $1 per pack is supported by nearly seven in 10 Kentucky voters. We strongly urge legislators to raise the increase from 50 cents to at least $1 per pack, and take the critical opportunity to not only raise new revenue, but also reduce tobacco use, save smoking-related health care expenditures, and improve the health of Kentuckians.
Some legislators may believe that 50 cents is a good compromise, but the truth is that Big Tobacco only supports this small increase because they know it won’t reduce smoking. The tobacco companies undermine any health benefit from a cigarette tax increase of less than $1 by offsetting the price impact of the tax with coupons. Then, they incrementally increase prices to make up for lost profits. Meanwhile, price-sensitive smokers – often youth, pregnant women and low-income adults – lose the incentive to quit, and ultimately end up paying more for their cigarettes. Low-income smokers and their families already suffer disproportionately from the ill health effects of smoking and a 50-cent tax increase will do almost nothing to help them.
Kentucky has the 8th lowest tobacco tax in the nation, and some of the highest youth smoking rates. At least 2,900 Kentucky kids become regular, daily smokers every single year. Smoking costs the state $1.9 billion annually in health care expenditures, and almost $600 million of that is paid by Medicaid alone. A 50-cent cigarette tax increase will not change these statistics and, compared to a $1 increase, it will leave tens of millions of dollars on the table that could be used to address other critical budget needs.
Big Tobacco can live with a smaller tax increase, but the state simply can’t afford to settle for less than $1 per pack. We urge Kentucky lawmakers to support an increase to Kentucky’s tobacco tax of at least $1 to keep teens from starting to smoke, reduce smoking among pregnant women, and promote a healthier Kentucky. We call on legislators to stand with the more than 150 Kentucky businesses and health groups calling for an increase of $1 or more per pack.