Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Raise Cigarette Taxes to Reduce Smoking

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Raise Cigarette Taxes to Reduce Smoking

Article excerpt

IN a way, the staffs of Reps. Pete Stark and James Hansen hope that Congress, as it cuts income taxes, becomes desperate for new revenue. That would give their legislation imposing a huge jump in taxes on cigarettes a better chance at passage this year.

The California Democrat and Utah Republican were to introduce that bill yesterday. It would increase the excise tax on a pack of cigarettes from 24 cents to $2 and set a comparable tax hike on other tobacco products. The measure, according to its sponsors, would raise $17 billion a year -- at first. Over time, they project revenues would decline because the resulting price hike from around $2.25 a pack to $4 would reduce the number of youngsters taking up smoking by 30 percent or more.

Such a revenue decline would be "great," vindicating the bill's basic antismoking purpose, as one staffer put it.

Mr. Stark's office looked into new research on the impact of a tobacco price hike on college students by Frank Chaloupka, an economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Henry Wechsler, director of a college alcohol studies program at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. The two examined the smaller 75 cents per pack tax increase proposed in the Clinton administration's health bill. Had the measure passed and the extra tax been fully passed on to smokers, it would have reduced student smoking rates by approximately 30 percent. Overall student cigarette consumption would have fallen by almost two-thirds.

Further, they write in a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) paper, the measure would have resulted in substantial long-run improvements in health. It would have reduced the number of smokers ages 18 through 24 by more than 1.8 million.

"Using the relatively conservative {medical} estimate that one in four smokers will die prematurely as the result of smoking-related illnesses, the 75 cent increase would have reduced the number of premature deaths in this age cohort by over 450,000," they state. A similar pattern would likely occur among those under 18 years of age, they add. But somewhat smaller smoking reductions would occur among older age cohorts. …

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