Editorials

Mississippi should save lives with a tax increase

TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

How much would you pay to save your life? Fifty cents a day? A dollar? More?

If you are a smoker, how much is your habit worth? How high would the price of cigarettes have to go for you to say “Enough”?

We’re urging the Mississippi Legislature and Gov. Phil Bryant to find out.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the ACS advocacy affiliate, in its latest report finds Mississippi doesn’t measure up so well when it comes to tobacco taxes.

Mississippi charges 68 cents per pack of 20 cigarettes. The national average is $1.68.

Consider this line from a Philip Morris report in 1985: “Of all the concerns, there is one — taxation — which alarms us the most.”

Yes, price does matter.

Difference $1 would make

ACS CAN projects a $1-per-pack increase in Mississippi’s cigarette tax would:

▪  Reduce youth smoking by 11.7 percent.

▪  Prevent 15,300 young people from becoming adult smokers.

▪  Cause 17,400 adults to give up smoking.

▪  Prevent 9,300 premature deaths.

▪  Save about $675 million in health-care costs.

So we recommend Mississippi lawmakers raise the tax by at least $1.

Numbers don’t lie

It has worked in the past.

In 1991, according to Tobacco Free Kids, which also advocates taxes as a means to an end of smoking, the average price of a pack in the U.S. was $2.83 and about 36.4 percent of Americans between 12 and 17 years of age smoked. By 2013, the price had hit $5.75 and the percentage had dropped to 15.7 percent.

In 2009, the federal government raised its cigarette tax by just over 61 cents a pack. The percentage of young people who reported smoking quickly dropped as much as 13.3 percent.

And the per-pack charge is not so much of a tax as a user fee. If you don’t smoke, you don’t get taxed. If you smoke, you are taxed.

The price of smoking is high — more than $1 billion in Mississippi, or about $1,086 per household in state and federal tax burden from smoking-caused government expenditures.

Tobacco companies can get around that tax by making little cigars, which are classified other tobacco products and taxed at 15 percent of the sales price. The same goes for the so-called smokeless tobacco and cigars. They, too, are deadly and their taxes should rise.

And those diehard smokers who won’t quit when the price goes up? At least they’ll put some money in our state treasury.

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

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