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Proposed Tobacco-Tax Hike Called a Missed Opportunity

In Connecticut, 13 people die from smoking-related causes every day. (Pexels/Pixabay)
In Connecticut, 13 people die from smoking-related causes every day. (Pexels/Pixabay)
August 30, 2017

HARTFORD, Conn. - State House Democrats want to raise Connecticut's tobacco tax, but is it enough to advance public health?

The latest House Democratic budget plan would raise the tax on some tobacco products by 45 cents, making it one of the highest tobacco taxes in the country - but it would not apply to all tobacco products.

Bryte Johnson, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network, said he believes the increase is too small to encourage people to quit. Although smokers may complain, he said, they're likely to just pay the higher price and keep smoking.

"It's going to also be offset by the massive amounts of money that Big Tobacco already spends on marketing in Connecticut," he said. "They'll just spend a little bit more, with more giveaways and more samples and coupons, and things along those lines."

Johnson does give the state credit for being one of the few to use Medicaid funds for all seven of the Food and Drug Administration-approved methods to quit smoking.

Connecticut gets $100 million a year from the Master Tobacco Settlement and millions more from tobacco taxes. Johnson said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the state spend $32 million a year on tobacco-control efforts.

"If you add up all the money we've spent in the last 15 years, it only come out to $29.7 (million)," he said. "So in 15 years, we've spent less money cumulatively than the CDC recommends we spend annually."

Since the creation of that fund, tobacco-control spending in the state has been cut 71 times and there's been no budget for non-Medicaid tobacco-control programs since 2015.

Johnson noted that the toll of tobacco use is extreme. The CDC has estimated that 1,500 Connecticut kids will start smoking this year, and 4,900 adults will die from smoking-related causes.

"That's 13 people a day at a cost of $230,000 an hour - every hour, every day, all year long," he said, "and our response is to do nothing."

Studies have shown that regular, significant increases in the price of tobacco, along with strong tobacco control and smoke-free laws, reduce smoking, saving money and lives.

More information is online at ct.gov.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - CT