2016-03-21 / Letters

THEIR VIEW

State should consider tobacco tax hike

A recent survey by the South Carolina Tobacco-Free Collaborative shows broad support for another increase in the state’s cigarette tax, with 73 percent of those surveyed favoring an increase.

Generally it would be considered onerous to enact a significant tax increase on a product so close on the heels of a previous one (the state raised its cigarette tax by 50 cents in 2010). However, tobacco is a special case.

Study after study show increases in the tax on tobacco products directly lead to a reduction in the use of those products. For example, between 2011 and 2013 — the years immediately following South Carolina’s cigarette tax increase — smoking among students declined by 23.7 percent. Research also is clear that tobacco products cause deadly health problems that exact a significant human and financial toll. Thus, raising the tobacco tax to reduce use and those deadly costs makes sense.

South Carolina’s current cigarette tax is 57 cents. It ranks 44th in the nation. By contrast, 32 states have a tax of at least $1 a pack, 15 states have a tax of at least $2 a pack, and another nine states tax cigarettes at least $3 a pack, according to a recent report by Greenville News health writer Liv Osby.

The sad history of South Carolina’s cigarette tax is even more troubling when we recall that before 2010 the cigarette tax here was a paltry 7 cents a pack. A long battle was fought to obtain the 50-cent increase that was well overdue.

It is no wonder South Carolina struggles with tobacco use and the health problems that go with it.

Given the obvious benefits of an increase in the tobacco tax and given the broad support for a tax increase, we urge the Tobacco-Free Collaborative to continue pressing for another increase to this tax. We also urge lawmakers to give the proposals a fair hearing at the appropriate time. This is not an idea that should be dismissed out of hand simply because it is a tax increase.

Yes, the argument will be made that the tobacco tax falls hardest on poor South Carolinians. They, after all, are the ones who tend to smoke and who can least afford an increase in the cost of tobacco products. However, they also are the ones who would benefit most from quitting smoking because of the costs of associated health problems.

If the idea comes to the Legislature there may also be calls to use the tax to reduce other taxes. This should go without saying, but a condition of any increase in the tobacco tax should be that the revenue generated from the increase be spent on health programs, particularly those health programs related to smoking cessation and the diseases most commonly caused by smoking. The only relief here should be from the damaging effects of tobacco use.

Our Legislature took a positive step in 2010 when it raised the tax by 50 cents. Though that was a bold step given how long it had been since the tax last was raised, it was a half-step. The Legislature could now go even further by increasing the tax to $1 per pack or more and using that funding to help address some very serious health needs in a state that often ranks near the bottom when it comes to good health.

— The Greenville News

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