In a recent story, a spokesperson for Gov. Baldacci dismissed any increase in the tobacco tax as a way of balancing the budget (Feb. 1). But history has proven that in Maine, as in the rest of the nation, an increase in the tobacco tax is good health policy regardless of the economic situation of state government.

Increasing the price of cigarettes is the single most effective strategy to reduce smoking. Every increase in the price of cigarettes in the history of Maine has been followed by a reduction in per capita consumption. This reduction is even greater among young people, resulting in fewer kids starting to smoke and more quitting as a result of price hikes.

In Maine, the tax on a pack of cigarettes would have to be $4.70 to just equal the direct health care costs! At the current tax of $1, the $3.70 per pack health care costs are being picked up by others.

All of us are acutely aware of the current health care cost crisis. A tobacco tax is one way to reduce the demand on an increasingly expensive health care system by reducing smoking rates and the health consequences of smoking.

A $1 increase in the price of cigarettes, for example, would reduce youth smoking by 16 percent, save $200 million in future health care costs and raise $86 million in new state revenue.

Over the years politicians have devised a variety of terms to avoid using the word “”tax.”” But in the case for an increase in the tobacco tax, the terms “”user fee”” or “”health care assessment”” would actually describe the situation if the funds raised were used to offset the health care costs of smoking.

It is way too early to take this health policy issue off the table for discussion.

Edward F. Miller, CEO

American Lung Association of Maine,


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