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South Carolina Tobacco Tax Increase Is Major Public Health Victory

“The South Carolina state legislature today took a major step to save lives and protect public health by overriding Governor Mark Sanford’s May 11 veto and passing a 50-cent tobacco tax increase. South Carolina has long held the rank of the lowest cigarette tax in the nation at seven cents and had not passed an increase since 1977. Today’s historic victory is a testament to the decade-long persistence of public health advocates in South Carolina who made the case that raising tobacco taxes is a proven method to protect public health by reducing smoking and preventing youth from starting the habit.

“The American Cancer Society and its advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), championed the tobacco tax increase in South Carolina to prompt current smokers to quit and prevent youth from starting. An estimated 20 percent of adults and 11.8 percent of youth in the state currently smoke. Research has consistently shown that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by 7 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent.

“Tobacco taxes also help to boost the economy by generating revenue and long-term health savings. Of the new revenue generated by the 50-cent tax, $5 million will be allocated each year to fund tobacco-related cancer research and an additional $5 million annually will be directed to the Smoking Prevention and Cessation Trust Fund. The remaining funds, an estimated $125 million per year, will be allocated to the South Carolina Medicaid Reserve Fund.

“Today’s victory in South Carolina is the latest in a series of improvements in tobacco control policies across the Southern tobacco growing states – where, despite recent wins, cigarette taxes remain among the lowest in the nation. South Carolina has set an example for other states in the region looking for ways to improve the health of their citizens and the strength of their economies. Tobacco taxes are one of the most effective ways to sharply reduce smoking, thereby reducing necessary health spending and lowering the cancer burden in a state. It’s a win for states every way you look at it.

“Since 2002, 46 states, the District of Columbia and several U.S. territories have raised their cigarette tax in 102 separate instances, including 14 states and the District of Columbia in 2009 alone. South Carolina is the fifth state to increase its taxes in 2010, preceded by Hawaii, Washington, New Mexico and Utah. By July 1, the new average state cigarette tax will be $1.41 per pack. Cigarette taxes currently range from a low of seven cents in South Carolina to a high of $3.46 in Rhode Island. After South Carolina’s increase goes into effect July 1, Missouri will have the lowest tax in the nation at 17 cents.

“The use of tobacco products remains the nation’s number one cause of preventable death, killing more than 400,000 Americans and costing $96 billion in direct health care costs each year.”

ACS CAN, the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, supports evidence-based policy and legislative solutions designed to eliminate cancer as a major health problem. ACS CAN works to encourage elected officials and candidates to make cancer a top national priority. ACS CAN gives ordinary people extraordinary power to fight cancer with the training and tools they need to make their voices heard.

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