Cigarette Tax Facts, Including Intl, Historical, and State Tables
Proposed Cig Tax Increase is Too Small to be Effective, and is Also Unfair
The proposed increase in federal cigarette excise taxes of only 55 cents a pack is far too small to have the desired effect of significantly reducing smoking by children.
It would also leave the U.S. with the lowest known effective tax burden in the world, and establish a tax which is dreadfully low even by U.S. historic standards. [see Tables I and II below]
Two major expert bodies recently studied how cigarette taxes affect consumption and starting behaviors of children. Both unanimously recommended an increase in cigarette taxes of $2.00 a pack in order to achieve any significant reductions.
The prestigious and impartial National Academy of Sciences has issued a major report. It shows that increased taxation of tobacco is the most effective way to deter kids from becoming addicts. Indeed, the Academy found that tax increases were far more effective than limitations on cigarette advertising and promotion, or antismoking campaigns,in reducing teen consumption. To achieve these goals, they recommended a tax increase of at least $2 a pack, noting that small increases are likely to have only a limited effect. Click on Natl Academy of Sciences Backs Cig Tax - Read Report [01/14/98]
The Advisory Committee on Tobacco Policy and Public Health. also known as the Koop-Kessler Committee. was composed of representatives from all of the major U.S. organizations concerned about smoking. It also unanimously concluded that an increase in the price of cigarettes of $2 a pack was necessary to achieve significant reductions in cigarette consumption by teenagers. Final Report of The Advisory Committee on Tobacco Policy and Public Health -- Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
In most countries around the world, more than 70% of the price of cigarettes is made up of taxes, and in only a few is the percentage below 50%. But in the U.S. less than 40% of the price smokers pay is the tax. Even with an increase of 55 cents a pack, taxes would make up far less than 60 percent of the U.S. total price, still lower than virtually any other country. [SEE TABLE I BELOW]
Back in the 1950's, before most people had any idea how dangerous cigarettes were, the federal excise tax made up 30-35% of their price. Today, when we know that smoking kills more than 400,000 smokers each year, the federal tax makes up less than 20% of the price. [SEE TABLE II BELOW]
This is manifestly unfair, because the majority of the enormous costs of smoking then must be borne primarily by nonsmokers who pay the costs in higher federal taxes (to cover smoking-related costs to Medicaid, Medicare, veterans' benefits, etc.) state taxes (various medical and welfare programs), health insurance premiums, and inflated costs for products and services to cover business-paid costs of health insurance, time lost from work, disability, etc.
the U.S. Senate estimated that the costs of smoking to the American economy are approximately $130 billion dollars a year. Yet federal, state, and municipal excise taxes on cigarettes for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1996 were only about $13 billion [The Tax Burden of Tobacco, Vol. 27, 1996] -- only about one tenth the cost!
The tobacco industry also tries to suggest that raising cigarette taxes is unfair to the poor, and/or that cigarette taxes are necessarily regressive. However, neither is true for several reasons.
First, the great majority of the poor -- and the majority of poor families -- do not use tobacco, although most poor households do purchase alcoholic beverages.
Therefore the majority of the poor -- and those who quit -- will not pay any of the increased tax on tobacco products, although they would reap the many benefits when higher cigarette taxes discourage smoking by others.
Primary among these would be the huge saving in income and other taxes now being used to pay for additional and unnecessary medical care under Medicaid, Medicare, Veterans' benefits and other welfare programs caused by smoking, as well as substantial savings in the expenses of medical insurance.
In addition, since the financial incentive to quit is strongest among those with the least income -- who are also less likely to appreciate the dangers from abstract warnings and are least responsive to social pressures to quit þ the poor would also benefit more directly in many ways.
The most direct beneficiaries would be those who are dissuaded from smoking by the higher tax. Many of those who will avoid death and disability as a result of quitting will be the poor smokers, the majority of whom already want to quit but require an additional incentive.
Since many of the more than American adults estimated to die each year from breathing tobacco smoke are the spouses of smokers, and the highest percentages of smokers are in the lowest income brackets, primarily beneficiaries of a higher cigarette tax will be the spouses of the current smokers who are persuaded to quit by a higher tax.
Others who as a result will literally breathe easier and live longer will be the children of the poor smokers who quit, and their friends and neighbors who are also likely to be poor.
Since smoking is also the major cause of residential fire deaths, the families of poor smokers and those who live in the same homes or apartment buildings are likely to benefit most from the cessation effects of a higher cigarette tax.
Finally, the Congressional Budget Office concluded in a study of excise taxes that "excise taxes may not burden lower-income families as much as they appear to. Measured as a percentage of total family expenditures, excise taxes are nearly the same for low-, middle-, and high-income families."
To see which U.S. Senators voted in favor of a $1.50 cigarette tax increase in 1998, click here