Despite widespread belief, Maine is not the highest taxed state in the nation, but it’s close. So talking about raising taxes here doesn’t seem to make sense. Except that, when it comes to raising taxes on cigarettes, the result is healthier people. Healthier Mainers.
That’s worth raising taxes for.
We fully support a $1 increase in Maine’s cigarette tax, not because it will raise money and ease the state budget deficit, but because it will save lives.
Maine used to have the highest cigarette tax in the nation, but it has slipped in recent years as other states have added what can only be described as punitive taxes designed to curb smoking.
Raising the price of cigarettes has been proven to reduce smoking, especially among young people. We can thank taxes for that.
According to the Partnership for a Tobacco-Free Maine, cigarette sales are down significantly since 1997, when 101.1 packs per capita were sold in Maine. In 2006, that figure had dropped to 64.8 packs per person. That’s real progress, and a good portion of that progress has resulted from raising the tax on packs.
According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, if we raise the tax $1 per pack:
• 8,500 fewer children will become smokers;
• 4,600 current adult smokers will quit;
• 3,900 Mainers will not die from smoking-related causes;
• Maine will save $192.5 million in health care costs; and
• Maine will realize $26.2 million more in annual revenue to fund health care.
Mainers now pay $2 in state tax for every pack sold, the same paid in Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan and Washington, D.C. Eight states levy more than $2.
New Yorkers pay $2.75 a pack, Hawaiians pay $2.60, Vermonters pay $2.24 and, in Wisconsin, the state tax is $2.52. The smoking rate for each of these states is less than in Maine because an increasing number of smokers are unwilling to pay the higher per-pack cost, and kick the habit.
Rhode Islanders pay the most taxes — $3.46 a pack — which includes a $1 hike enacted last year.
If Maine increases its cigarette tax $1 a pack, raising it to $3, we’re still behind Rhode Island.
What’s interesting about the climbing state tax in Rhode Island is the resulting decrease in smoking.
In 1998, when cigarette taxes among states were more equal, 22.4 percent of Mainers smoked, compared to 22.7 percent of Rhode Islanders. Equal taxes and pretty equal smoking rates.
As Maine’s tax rate increased, its smoking rate declined, with 20.1 percent of Mainers smoking in 2007. Rhode Island’s tax rate climbed higher, and its smoking rate decreased faster, with only 17 percent of Ocean Staters smoking in 2007.
It’s a fine example of cause and effect; raise taxes and cigarette use declines. It’s about life — not death — and taxes.
This year, in Maine, 2,200 people will die from cigarette use. Maybe, in future years, fewer people will die if we make cigarettes more expensive to buy. One extra dollar per pack can and will save lives.