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Akron Univ. School of Law

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

More Smokers Seek Help With Quitting Since Latest Cigarette Tax Took Effect

The Chicago Tribune reports on how consumers will be affected regarding the recent cigarette tax increase in New York. Lisa Anderson writes,

Cigarette2If you think it's expensive to visit New York City, it's become even pricier to light up here.

The Big Apple now carries the nation's highest-priced cigarettes: $10 a pack, more than twice the nation's average price of $4.22. In Chicago it's about $7.50 a pack. But New York also boasts a lower proportion of adult smokers than the rest of the country — 17.5 percent compared with 19.7 percent nationally.

When it comes to smoking, apparently money talks. Dr. Thomas Frieden, the city's health commissioner, certainly thinks so. After a decade in which smoking prevalence stayed the same, the city's smoking rate dropped 21 percent among adults and 52 percent among public high school students in the five years following cigarette tax increases in 2002. Following last month's addition of a new state cigarette tax of $1.25 a pack, Frieden expects more of the city's 1 million smokers to quit.

Free patch for quitters

Maurice Garrick, 34, is one of them. The unemployed chef said the price increase has persuaded him to end his pack-a-day Newport habit. "I just have to do it. It's too much money, way too much," said Garrick. He also availed himself of the free nicotine patches the city has been supplying since 2003.

Last week, Frieden reported that calls to the city's 311 help line by smokers seeking assistance with quitting tripled in the week the price increase took effect, compared with the comparable 2007 week. In addition to those 2,700 callers, about 1,600 New Yorkers picked up free nicotine patches on June 3, the day of the price hike.

"The extra push of a higher price results in many smokers stopping smoking forever," said Frieden.

Not so Allison Smith. "If [the price increase] is meant as a deterrent, then the people I know haven't even heard the message," the 29-year-old banker said.

Fighting fire with taxes
But studies have shown that cigarette price increases are among the most effective ways to reduce smoking not just among adults but among young people, according to Danny McGoldrick, vice president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit. State and local tax increases are important because the federal cigarette tax per pack remains at 39 cents after President George W. Bush's 2007 veto of a bill that would have raised that tax by 61 cents a pack.

"A 10 percent increase in price reduces adult smoking prevalence by about 2 percent, but decreases youth smoking prevalence by 6 to 7 percent," he said. But the most effective solution goes further, says McGoldrick. "When you raise the price, invest in cessation programs that we know work and go smoke-free, you get the most dramatic impact."

In that respect, he said, New York City, with a combined state and local tax of $4.25 per pack, smoke-free legislation and an investment in cessation programs with support from the state, has become the national leader in that trifecta. New York state, which spends $85.5 million annually on tobacco prevention, meets 89.2 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's minimum annual funding recommendation and ranks 7th in the U.S.

Chicago, which adopted a comprehensive smoking ban in 2006, has a combined city, county and state tax of $3.66 per pack—the second highest in the country. However, McGoldrick said, the state of Illinois, which imposed a statewide smoking ban this year, falls short on tobacco cessation funding. Ranked 39th in the U.S., Illinois is spending $8.5 million in fiscal year 2008 or 13.1 percent of the CDC's minimum annual recommendation.

On the other hand, in South Carolina, the state excise tax on cigarettes is the lowest in the country at 7 cents per pack. The state ranks 45th in the nation in terms of funding tobacco prevention.

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