Anti-Tobacco Activist Pushes Cessation Rather Than Taxation
HARTFORD, CT — Those who lead the fight against big tobacco in the state are once again hoping the latest plan to raise taxes on those who use tobacco products don’t forget to fund smoking cessation programs.
Currently Connecticut, along with West Virginia, are the only states in the country that don’t spend a penny on such programs, according to a nationwide report that tracks the issue. Instead, all the money raised through tobacco-related products are swept into the general fund.
The report “Broken Promises to Our Children” a state-by-state look at the 1998 tobacco settlement, was released Thursday. Connecticut is ranked 50th of all the states.
Bryte Johnson, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in Connecticut, said Wednesday “that the devil will be in the details” with respect to a plan announced Wednesday by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to raise taxes on smoking products.
Raising taxes — again — on cigarettes, tripling the tax on cigars from 50 cents to $1.50, and imposing a 75-percent excise tax on e-cigarettes are among the ways Malloy is proposing to close a $208 million budget deficit in this fiscal year’s budget.
The cigarette tax — which rose 45 cents to $4.35 per pack in the new, two-year state budget adopted in late October — could bring in an extra $6.6 million this fiscal year and $20 million in 2019 if another quarter were added, bumping it to $4.60, according to the governor.
The tax on a pack of cigarettes is already scheduled to go from $3.90 to $4.35 on Jan. 1, 2018.
The cigar tax hike would bring in, the governor estimates, an additional $1 million this fiscal year and $2.9 million more next.
And the excise tax hike on e-cigarettes would bring in $2.8 million this fiscal year and $8.5 million in the next fiscal year.
All the tobacco tax increases Malloy is proposing would go into effect March 1, 2018.
“I’m not trying to lecture the General Assembly or preach,” Johnson said. But he added, “Not spending money now costs much more money later, because of the high health-related costs of tobacco-related illnesses.”
Johnson said it’s “a worthy discussion that should be held — the benefits and cost savings smoking cessation programs bring versus not.”
Johnson, and others who fight big tobacco, have said repeatedly that Connecticut has not been bold enough in its efforts to stop young people from starting the habit or kicking it.
In New York City, for instance, the cost of a pack of cigarettes will be a minimum of $13 as of June 1, 2018, under legislation signed late last year by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Currently, the minimum allowed price per pack is $10.50 in New York City.
New York began a regulatory war on smoking under the previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent. The city has long subscribed to a theory that driving up prices, either through high taxes or by setting price minimums, causes people to either give up smoking or not to start.
Smoking rates in New York City have declined from 21.5 percent in 2002 to about 14.3 in 2015. City health officials said they believed the new restrictions could decrease the rate to 12 percent by 2020.
In Connecticut, an attempt to raise the legal age for the purchase and use of tobacco products from 18 to 21 never made it through the General Assembly this year.
During debate over the bill last year, it was estimated that raising the age would result in a $43 million revenue loss for the state.