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Citizens Speak: Leaders Respond

Tobacco tax finally increased, reduced amount disappoints advocates

Most favor major increase

Kentucky citizens expressed more support for an increase in the tobacco excise tax than legislators were willing to adopt into law. In a Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll of adults conducted between February 3-9, 67.6 percent said that the proposal to increase the current 3 percent tax by 31 cents to 34 cents was “about right” or “too little.” Only 28.7 percent said the proposal was “too much.” When asked how much tobacco taxes should be increased, 66.5 percent endorsed an amount at or above the proposed 34-cent tax.

Legislators compromise

Nevertheless, members of the Kentucky General Assembly reduced the 34-cent proposal to 29 cents, a 26-cent increase. Another 1-cent increase, with the $5-6 million in revenue it would produce, was added and restricted to cancer research.

Border counties influential

Pressure from business interests, particularly cigarette retailers along Kentucky’s borders, is credited with this reduction in the planned increase.

More support from urban areas

Of the 75 percent who support a cigarette tax increase, 84 percent are urban residents, 72 percent are rural.

Coalition mobilizes

Citizens responding to polls are not the only source of information provided lawmakers on this issue. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids launched an intensive effort to inform the public of use trends and its impact on youth health and industry costs. They report that in Kentucky, 33.4 percent of high school girls smoke cigarettes, compared to 31.8 percent of high school boys (although 23.5 percent of high school boys use smokeless tobacco).The Campaign estimates that 12,500 Kentucky youth less than 18 years of age become smokers every year. They purchase or smoke 18.4 million packs annually, and 363,000 youth are exposed to second-hand smoke at home.

Effect on health care costs

An estimated $1.38 billion is spent on health care in Kentucky annually that is directly attributed to tobacco use. Smoking-caused health care costs total $7.18 per pack.

Effect on consumption

Studies from the U.S. Center for Disease Control conclude that a 50-cent increase in the per pack price of cigarettes will reduce consumption by 9 percent.

Kentucky no where near national average

Apparently, this data is not compelling enough to bring legislators to increase the Kentucky tax anywhere near the 50-cent surrounding state average. The average state cigarette tax rate is 84 cents. The current range: $2.46 in Rhode Island to Kentucky’s 3 cent tax. When increased to 30 cents, only four states will have lower cigarette taxes than Kentucky.

The C-J Bluegrass Poll of 801 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

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