We hope this life-saving proposal doesn’t go up in smoke

The Mississippi Legislature should raise the cigarette tax $1.50 a pack — at least.

The main reason we support this tax increase is Mississippians don’t have to pay it if they don’t want to. All they have to do is stop smoking. And that would be good for everyone.

First and foremost, it would save lives.

The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Tobacconomics have the numbers:

▪  Smoking kills 5,400 Mississippians each year.

▪  Smoking causes a little less than a third of cancer deaths in the state.

▪  Almost 23 percent of Mississippians smoke (514,700 adults).

▪  Another 1,800 kids under 18 years of age pick up the habit each year.

Those grim statistics should be enough. You would think anyone who enjoys life would give up smoking. Statistics indicate otherwise.

Once a teen lights up, the smoke affects his or her brain within seconds. Soon, they’ll find it hard to wrench themselves from nicotine’s warm embrace. Scientists and doctors in 1987 concluded nicotine addiction is harder to kick than heroin.

A tax increase could help, the three groups say. They predict costlier cigarettes would keep 22,800 young people 18 to 24 years old from becoming smokers. And, they say, 26,500 adults smokers would quit and deaths attributed to smoking would decline by 14,000.

It would save more than $1 billion in health care costs and reduce the $319 million in annual Medicaid costs caused by smoking in the state. They estimate the tax would save Mississippians $1,046 per household in government spending caused by smoking. And it would add $166 million to the state’s treasury, they predict, money that could pay for health-related programs.

And yet, lawmakers in charge of the committees crucial to the tax-increase’s success are noncommittal at best but said they probably would not allow the entire $1.50 a pack increase. The supporters think that $1.50 is a sweet spot that would yield the maximum number of smoke-free people and would prevent tobacco companies from blunting the tax’s effect by lowering prices.

This year, the Legislature for the first time will see the combined effort of 20 groups — the three aformetioned and the American Lung Association, the Mississippi Public Health Association, the State Medical Association, the state Academy of Family Physicians, the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and others to convince lawmakers to do the right thing.

Mississippians have nothing to lose, we believe, other than a deadly, nasty habit.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.