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Tobacco Tax and Pre-K: “Brilliant” Funding Scheme or Pipe Dream?

PHOTO: President Obama wants to invest some $75 billion dollars in early childhood education and fund it by raising federal taxes on cigarettes. That has started a dialogue among children’s advocates in New York. Photo credit: Mark Scheerer
PHOTO: President Obama wants to invest some $75 billion dollars in early childhood education and fund it by raising federal taxes on cigarettes. That has started a dialogue among children’s advocates in New York. Photo credit: Mark Scheerer
May 28, 2013

NEW YORK CITY - In his State of the Union address, President Obama said he wants to invest some $75 billion in early childhood education and make the pre-kindergarten experience available to all of the nation's 4-year-olds. He said he would try to fund it by asking Congress to raise federal taxes on cigarettes.

Pediatrician and child care advocate Dina Joy Lieser pointed out the symmetry to helping improve kids' futures while addressing the enormous health issues that cigarettes pose.

"We know that increasing taxes does result in some decreased use of those products, especially by younger folks who use them," Lieser said.

She noted that pre-K children are especially susceptible to the impressions they get from adults who engage in activities such as smoking.

Marcy Safyer, Adelphi University, wondered if funding pre-K would be done on the backs of the poor, since studies have shown that low-income people make up a major proportion of cigarette smokers.

"If it really worked as a deterrent, so that poor people would not buy cigarettes any more because they cost too much, maybe then it would make more sense," Safyer said.

What would make still more sense, she added, would be to tax the revenue of tobacco companies.

Lieser said she likes the idea of a tax that's going to have a public health impact.

"I think it's a very brilliant approach that really highlights the commitment to looking at long-term outcomes and influencing our nation's future and health," Lieser said.

Safyer said she does not doubt the need to boost support for early childhood education, even though she has doubts about the tax.

"It sounds like a good idea, but if you really look into it, I'm not sure that tax is really the way it makes sense to fund something that is so essential and so needed."

Some tax advocates have warned that if higher taxes did drive down cigarette consumption, that tax base would shrink.

Anti-smoking organizations have praised the plan; the tobacco industry has attacked it.


Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY