Guest Post: Don’t Let Montanans’ Health Go Up in Smoke: Raise the Cigarette Tax by $1.50 Per Pack

By: Kristin Page Nei, Montana government relations director, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network; Amanda Cahill, government relations director, American Heart Association/American Stroke Association; Ronni Flannery, American Lung Association in Montana.

This year, a staggering 1,600 Montanans will die from tobacco use – the leading cause of preventable death. Montana also faces a staggering $220 million budget shortfall, forcing the state to cut vital health programs and/or seek ways to raise new revenue.

There’s a proven solution to save money, raise vital revenue and most importantly, save lives. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), American Heart Association and American Lung Association urge lawmakers to pass a permanent cigarette tax increase of $1.50 per pack this upcoming special session.

A $1.50 per pack cigarette tax increase is projected to save 3,900 Montanans from premature smoking-related death and reduce youth smoking rates almost 16 percent. It’s can also help 7,200 current smokers quit. And, it saves Montana money. Smoking alone costs Montana $440 million in annual health care costs. With state budget woes, shouldn’t we permanently try to improve our economy?

We pushed for a $1.50 cigarette tax increase this year. Big Tobacco spent $200,000 killing our efforts because they knew it would hurt their profits. This special session, we again urge lawmakers to side with public health and say no to Big Tobacco’s attempts to lure future tobacco users.

Regular, significant tobacco tax increases are proven to prevent youth from starting and prompt current users to quit. It only works if price increases are significant enough to offset Big Tobacco’s ploys. The temporary 50 cents per pack tax that’s currently being considered is grossly inadequate and bad for Montana.

Here’s why small tobacco tax increases don’t work:

  • Big Tobacco regularly uses coupons and discounts to minimize the “sticker shock” price increase for consumers. In 2015, Big Tobacco spent more than $8.2 billion on cigarette marketing. Nearly 73 percent of that money went to price discounts and coupons intended to reduce cigarette prices.
  • After a tax increase takes effect, tobacco companies often discount prices 40 to 50 cents. After Louisiana raised its tax by 50 cents per pack, some companies distributed 50 cent coupons, effectively eliminating the tax’s impact and health benefit.

To account for price discounting, we need a $1.50 per pack increase to ensure a meaningful impact on reducing tobacco use and improving public health. This tax increase must be permanent and implemented all at once, not phased in over months or years.

To protect our kids, we must significantly increase the price of all tobacco products—something Montana hasn’t done since 2005. Every state that’s significantly increased its tobacco tax has seen tobacco sales decrease, leading to fewer kids starting to smoke and less preventable death and disease. This revenue must be used to fund programs that improve public health, help people quit and protect kids from tobacco use.

An ACS CAN poll shows increasing tobacco taxes to address revenue shortfall is strongly supported across party lines with 77 percent of Montana voters favoring a $1.50 per pack cigarette tax increase with revenue used to fight tobacco use and fund state health programs.

When our legislators meet for the special session, they must find $229 million in revenue and/or cut programs.  Our proposed $1.50 per pack cigarette tax increase will generate roughly $44 million in new annual revenue.

Please pass this permanent tobacco tax to save lives, save money and generate revenue. Don’t let Montana’s fiscal and physical health go up in smoke!

For the full political cartoon atop of this post click here.


19 Comments on "Guest Post: Don’t Let Montanans’ Health Go Up in Smoke: Raise the Cigarette Tax by $1.50 Per Pack"

  1. Yes!!! This is a win/win solution short of banning tobacco. As much as I appreciate all of the Montana smokers who are helping to put my children through college by needing medical care, I would rather reduce their numbers. Everyone wins when a smoker quits. Increased tax revenues is a bonus!!!

  2. This is silly logic. You are targeting a specifically crafted, soft target group using cost outlay as the reasoning.

    You state it costs $440 million annually. First, it is a minority that smokes, roughly 22%. Second, increase the tax, more people quit, tax revenue decreases, state fails to receive monies, and we are back to square one.

    Alcohol, consumed by a much larger number of people on a regular basis, costs this state $510.2 million annually (2010 stats). Tax this as it will continue to create revenue with social drinkers, vacationers, political and social fund-raising events, in bars, hotels, and liquor stores. Those with drinking issues may quit (or never start). Their are many more people who consume alcohol, only four states have a higher alcohol consumption than ours, than smoke and the continuation of a revenue stream would be better.

    • No one is saying in this editorial that there shouldn’t/couldn’t be an alcohol tax… are we only able to do one? Also, the revenue from tobacco tax (from many years’ and states’ worth of research) shows that while revenue does dip a bit as people quit, it is still a large and dependable source of funding. On the other hand, the more folks that quit- the less we pay in Medicaid costs (and many other costs) related to tobacco use. A lot of folks can agree with the alcohol tax- I sure do, but that doesn’t mean a higher tobacco tax has no merit.

  3. I quit smoking about 10 years ago when the state raised cigarette taxes, But once again refused to raise taxes on alcohol and gambling. All three sin taxes Could each be raised without harming anyone, and it would save some of the programs that are now going to be cut

  4. A much as I agree with the intent to rid ourselves of smoking, aren’t cigarette taxes highly regressive, and harm the already-poor far more than they help anyone, especially after repeated tax increases? As this article notes, “Analysis of horizontal equity (fairness within a given income group) shows that cigarette taxes heavily burden poor smokers who do not quit, no matter how tax burden is assessed.”

    Should we be promoting a tax that harms our poorest first? Maybe it’s time for the organization to adopt an updated strategy…

    • Wow. So we’ll tax the rich to pay for our Leftist utopia, but we’ll let the poor (whom we claim to champion) smoke away with abandon. Can’t argue with logic like that.

      • The poor don’t pay taxes, overall. They are tax recipients. It allows them to buy cigarettes, booze, and drugs. You know this.

  5. Why not raise the alcohol tax? Montana seems to PROMOTE any new alcoholic endeavor. Montana is in the top three across the nation for alcohol related deaths which includes higher “carnage” of the human species as well as the cost to the medical establishment as well as child abuse, poverty, the list is almost endless. Does tobacco cause this much damage to society ? I don’t smoke and have no ax to grind here, BUT shouldn’t people be more realistic and honest in what they are proposing for establishment to cut costs ?

  6. Decreasing tobacco use may decrease health care costs in the short-term, but the subsequent increase in life expectancy may actually increase health care costs in the long-term. Admittedly it’s an old publication, but the New England Journal of Medicine has previously published a paper outlining that precise effect (doi: 10.1056/NEJM199710093371506).

    It seems the better question to ask is how much money is society willing to spend to increase lifespan and who should pay for that benefit?

    • I do not take for truth ANY publications from the New England Journal of Medicine the AMA or the Pharmaceutical Firms. Do you see any published research from THEM on the dangers of chemicals in the food chain,water or any other source that is causing so many new disease such as Cancer,diabetes,high blood pressure etc:? When will the money given to these companies for treatment ALSO be approved and equal for those doing research for the Cause of suffering? When there is a dispute challenging their drugs, Big Pharmaceutical firms and their billions go to the court of law “disproving” anything that is not to their financial benefit. This we have seen far too many times . As for as who is willing to spend to increase life span, and who should pay for it? That would then be a question that need not be asked with finding and eliminating the cause.

      • boB AKA @Gyrogyrloose | November 9, 2017 10:24 AM at 10:24 AM |

        NEJM and JAMA have both published excellent pieces on Cannabis and Chronic Pain Treatment over the years, among many other alternative voices. Just as Fox occasionally lets facts creep into a story, these publications content varies with the authors and editors.

    • Knee slap! So let the poor die so that we don’t have to pay for their health care! Roll on, Obamacare! Only Leftists need apply for longevity!

  7. Yes, there are plenty of other places to look to see how well it works.

  8. I find that in your pleas to save lives you ignore that you are targeting a very specific and often poor class of citizens for a massive tax increase. That is the unfair part. While I would support a moderate increase, I would have to insist that all other “sin” taxes be increased as well. Your proposal is mean spirited, whether intentional or not.

    • What seems unfair is that Big Tobacco targets the poor and ropes them into a lifelong addiction. I don’t think any measure which aims to reduce tobacco use and related illness can be taken as mean spirited. Any public health measures that can reduce reliance on these deadly products is a win for everyone- especially those who quit! Tobacco taxes are one of THE MOST effective ways to reduce smoking rates.

  9. What seems unfair is that Big Tobacco targets the poor and ropes them into a lifelong addiction. I don’t think any measure which aims to reduce tobacco use and related illness can be taken as mean spirited. Any public health measures that can reduce reliance on these deadly products is a win for everyone- especially those who quit! Tobacco taxes are one of THE MOST effective ways to reduce smoking rates.

  10. boB AKA @Gyrogyrloose | November 9, 2017 10:29 AM at 10:29 AM |

    I just have to say this. I am 6′ tall and weigh 160 pounds, have been 160#-185# all my life. I don’t drink but I do roll my own tobacco and smoke 3-5 ciggies a day. I look at the obits and there are lots of folks younger than me on the pages, most looking very well fed. If we are serious about reducing healthcare costs maybe a $1 tax on Big Macs would be a better place to start…

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