State Rep. Jennifer Weiss and Sen. William Purcell have introduced legislation that would address one of the nation’s largest public health issues: tobacco use. Tobacco-related illness remains the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 440,000 American lives a year. The American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association in North Carolina applaud these legislators and their proposal to raise the tobacco tax.
Each year over 12,200 North Carolinians die from tobacco-related illnesses and secondhand smoke exposure. In addition, it costs the state’s economy over $2.4 billion annually in health care expenditures. Specifically, taxpayers shoulder over $769 million in Medicaid dollars spent annually for smoking-related medical treatment. It’s time for North Carolina to protect its citizens from the dangers of tobacco. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has long advised that significantly raising the price of a pack of cigarettes is the best way to keep children from starting to smoke.
According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, raising the cigarette tax by $1 per pack would generate $338.4 million in new revenue for the state and prevent more than 81,000 kids from becoming addicted adult smokers. Additionally, raising the tax rates on other tobacco products to equivalent levels would generate an additional $53.1 million. North Carolina’s current cigarette tax is 45 cents, the seventh-lowest in the nation. The national average is currently $1.45.
In a year when our state is facing a serious economic crisis, we cannot afford to ignore this important public health measure and source of revenue. Raising tobacco taxes is a win-win for our state. It will save lives and raise revenue.