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Study Pushes $1 Hike in Cig Tax: Doc Wants 'Way More'

February 15, 2010

PHOENIX, Ariz. - Arizona could raise an extra $67 million toward its budget shortfall and improve public health by adding a dollar to the state's $2-a-pack tax on cigarettes. That's one conclusion of a new report from the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

However, Maricopa County public health director Dr. Bob England says, when you consider the medical costs and lost productivity from smoking, the tax could even be much higher.

"If you want to take a Libertarian view that people should be able to pursue anything they want as long as they pay their own way, you would not reach that point until you taxed cigarettes at better than $11 per pack."

The study pegs the medical cost savings of a $1 tax increase at $770 million over the lifetimes of Arizonans who either stop smoking - or never start - because of the tax hike. The tobacco industry estimates the average price for a pack of cigarettes in Arizona is currently $5.60.

The study estimates a dollar-per-pack increase would stop more than 33,000 Arizona kids from starting to smoke. England says it's well-established that higher taxes deter tobacco use.

"There's good data that for every 10 percent increase in the tax rate, you decrease smoking rates by about four percent."

With Phoenix about to impose a two-percent sales tax on food, England thinks it might be a good time to apply the same cost-to-society logic to unhealthy foods as well.

"We should be paying closer to the real cost for sugar-sweetened beverages, for example, and for other fattening and nutritionally poor foods."

England concedes a tax on unhealthy foods may be a harder sell, but the study found voters favor a one-dollar increase in the cigarette tax by a two-to-one margin.

The study is at http://tobaccofreekids.org/reports/state_tax_report/ .

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ