At the same time, we’re ranked Number 50—51 if you count Washington D.C.—in the cigarette tax rate with a per-pack tax of only three cents. Among our neighboring states, Missouri is the next lowest with a 17 percent per pack rate; Illinois is the highest with 98 cents per pack.
Fortunately, Governor Fletcher has courageously proposed changing our status and increasing the tax rate on cigarettes and other tobacco products to be more in line with our neighbors. We applaud the governor for including this component in his tax modernization package although we wish he had increased the rate even more so it would approach the average tax of the surrounding states which is 46 cents per pack for cigarettes.
An abundance of evidence exists to support the tax increase—most important of which is that a significant increase in the price per pack of cigarettes greatly reduces smoking by children. According to research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes will reduce teen smoking by six or seven percent. (By the way, Kentucky also is Number One in teen smoking.)
More important than the fact that the tax is being raised, is that we all stand to benefit from long-term health benefits as a result—especially if a significant part of the tax is earmarked to promote the health of all Kentuckians. What would be a serious mistake is to use the proceeds from the increase to offset reductions in other taxes. Kentucky needs a healthier lifestyle, and proceeds from the cigarette tax can and should carry a lot of weight in promoting that lifestyle.
Dozens of organizations—including the Kentucky Farm Bureau—are lining up in support of a tax increase on cigarettes. Of course, everyone is looking for a piece of the pie, but doesn’t it make sense that the largest slice goes to helping improve our health? After all, Kentucky is not only distinguished by the nation’s highest smoking rate, we’re also among the leaders in some other less-than-desirable statistics, including cancer rates, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and infant mortality. (As one final aside, Kentucky has the second highest rate of smoking by pregnant women, which contributes directly to low birth weight babies, infant mortality, and birth defects.)
The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is charged with promoting access to health care for low-income and undeserved Kentuckians. But the Foundation also is promoting healthy lifestyles for Kentucky’s children and families, and there is a direct link between the health of Kentucky’s work force and the state’s economic health. Increasing the cigarette tax and using some of the proceeds to promote health and wellness makes sense for everyone.
We encourage the General Assembly to look seriously at the Governor’s budget proposals related to tobacco taxes and to the make Kentucky children and families Number One in their decision processes.
Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky Community Advisory Committee