A new year brings New Year’s resolutions. The good news this year is that many Wyoming residents will resolve to put down their cigarettes or tobacco products for good. But, as any tobacco users will tell you, quitting isn’t easy. Unfortunately, this addiction makes it difficult to succeed.
All of us should want to help tobacco users quit successfully and prevent our kids from starting—not just during the season of resolutions, but throughout the year. Making tobacco products significantly more expensive is one of the most effective tools to reduce use and decrease the number of deaths caused by tobacco use.
This upcoming legislative session, the legislature’s Revenue Committee will introduce a bill to raise the state’s cigarette tax by $1 per pack and increase the price of other tobacco products like chewing tobacco at equal amounts. This legislation is supported by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) and a coalition of other health and medical organizations across the state who want to reduce the devastating physical and financial consequences of tobacco use.
Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death. Smoking claims the lives of 800 Wyoming residents each year, and it also causes roughly 29 percent of all cancer deaths in the state. Wyoming has high smoking rates for adults and high school students, in part, because of our dismal cigarette tax. At just 60 cents per pack, Wyoming’s cigarette tax ranks 43rd in the nation and falls well below the national average of $1.72 per pack.
ACS CAN determines its policy recommendations based on strong evidence, and the evidence repeatedly shows that regular and significant tobacco tax increases of at least $1 are proven to help people quit smoking and keep kids from ever starting. In fact, every state that has raised its tobacco tax by at least that amount has seen a sharp decline inthe number of cigarette packs sold. For Wyoming, a $1 cigarette tax increase would help roughly 2,800 adult smokers quit and prevent 2,400 youth from this addiction. Ultimately, it will save 1,400 people from a premature smoking-related death.
What’s more, this tobacco tax increase would greatly benefit Wyoming’s fiscal health. Health care costs directly related to smoking in Wyoming total $225 million annually, with nearly $45 million in Medicaid costs. A $1 cigarette tax increase would save an estimated $107 million in long-term health care costs, while generating an additional $22 million in new revenue annually.
These are the facts. Another fact is that cigarette companies don’t want people to quit, which is why they spend nearly $23 million annually to market their deadly products in Wyoming. Our tax increase must be high enough to offset these merciless efforts. Tobacco companies often uses discount promotions and coupons to reduce the consumer “sticker shock” of a small tax increase. To counter these attempts and ensure a meaningful public health benefit, we need a tax increase of at least $1. This price increase is too high for tobacco companies to absorb.
Given all this, it’s no surprise that those who resolve to be tobacco free in 2018 face an uphill battle. We can fix that.
I urge our state legislators to join the many smokers and tobacco users who have resolved to quit this year, and make a resolution of your own: Resolve to raise the tobacco tax by at least $1. The science is clear on the benefits, and the time is right.