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OP ED: Tobacco Tax is a Win-Win for Rhode Island

Leave the tobacco tax as-is, says Michael Fine, Interim Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Tobacco taxes have proven to be a major public policy success all across the US. Taxing tobacco helps reduce cigarette smoking (and other tobacco use) as it raises the revenue states need, so that states can afford to treat the illnesses tobacco use causes.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) regards raising tobacco prices as a best practice in reducing smoking – the leading preventable cause of death and disease nationally – because those higher prices keep people from smoking – and that saves lives and hundreds of millions in healthcare costs each year.

Each year, smoking costs the Rhode Island economy more than $1.2 billion, according to a recent study commissioned by the American Lung Association. The average price of a pack of cigarettes is $8.12 while the cost to the state per pack is $31.20 – nearly 400 percent more than smokers pay.

Rhode Island has the second highest cigarette tax in the nation. We also have the third lowest youth smoking rate and the fifth lowest adult smoking rate in the US. This is not a coincidence.

As cigarette taxes climbed in the early 2000s from $.71 to $3.46, consumption declined markedly. Rhode Island’s youth smoking rate decreased 62 percent between 1997 and 2008. According to an economic analysis conducted by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, every ten percent increase in cigarette prices reduces youth smoking by approximately seven percent and total cigarette consumption by four percent.

Rhode Islanders fought hard for cigarette tax increases over time, and as a result, we’ve seen significant reductions in smoking initiation, cigarette consumption, and exposure to secondhand smoke. What’s more, these taxes have become a vital financial resource for our state and, unlike some taxes, enjoy overwhelming public support. 

But there are still 1,600 Rhode Islanders who die from smoking each year. Nearly all of them began smoking before age 18.

Rhode Island’s tobacco tax has been a win-win for the Rhode Island and Rhode Islanders.  Fewer smokers, fewer kids with a disgusting, expensive, deadly habit – and a state better able to afford its health care costs.

Why be second best?  Let’s keep the tobacco tax as it is, and help make Rhode Island the healthiest state in the union.

- Michael Fine, M.D., 
Interim Director, Rhode Island Department of Health 

john santos May 10, 2011 at 04:43 AM
The reason the amount of smokers have declined that many people purchase ciggarettes in near buy tax friendly states and due to the large population leaving R.I. This little Sh-t hole of a state is one of the worst places to live, high taxes on everything,from heating,electric and even water. Business are moving out all the tine. I know as I moved my business out of here to near by business friendly Massachusetts along with my recent purchase of my home there. The high tax on ciggaretts is not to help heath care for smokers its used to fix the states budget due to the corrupt politicions of RI. The state dont care about the people they only care about the tax revenue. Thats why they used the ciggarett settlement money about 10 yrs. for the state budget. Hope the state of RI falls big time !!
Donna C May 10, 2011 at 06:38 PM
I am all for getting people to quit smoking, but raising taxes is not the way to do it. I agree with John above that people are just going to other states to buy their cigarettes. Taxing we the people instead of making the cuts where necessary is all about being a coward. I think it's a fallacy to attribute less cigarette sales to raising taxes, in the same way that taxing sugary beverages or McDonald's will cut down on obeseity. Our politicians need to make brave choices, and they won't. That is the bottom line.

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