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WI "Light Up" Tax Proposal Gets Health Kudos

February 23, 2009

Madison, WI - When the cost of a pack of smokes goes up, the number of people who light up goes down, according to the American Lung Association of Wisconsin. That's one reason the organization approves of Governor Jim Doyle's budget proposal, which includes a hike in cigarette taxes.

Spokesperson Donna Wininsky says the 75-cent-per-pack tax increase would result in fewer kids taking up the habit, as well as encouraging smokers of all ages to get the help they need to quit.

"For every 10 percent increase in price, we see a seven percent drop in youth smoking. Plus, it will raise revenues that are needed for Medicaid and other very important, health-related programs."

Wininsky sees a cigarette tax hike as fair, because she says smokers drive up healthcare costs for taxpayers who don't smoke. The general public supports the increase, she adds.

"I think people recognize the fact that the budget is in a very bad place, and that there has to be some revenue increase. Smokers have much higher healthcare costs than nonsmokers, and a greater percentage of the Medicaid population smokes."

The governor also is suggesting a statewide smoking ban to replace the patchwork of local laws in Wisconsin, an idea the American Lung Association has advocated for many years.

Smokers' rights groups oppose the tax hike, saying it unfairly singles them out; and some in the hospitality industry say they'll fight a statewide indoor smoking ban, because they believe it hurts restaurant and bar businesses.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - WI