A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Tobacco Tax Increased Today: Win - Win - Win - Win .... (how many wins do you want?)

Tobacco Tax Increased Today: Win - Win - Win - Win .... (how many wins do you want?)

August 1, 2013

Today Massachusetts increased its tobacco taxes, on both cigarettes and other forms of tobacco.

Back when the legislature was debating tobacco taxes in the 1990s, one legislator called it a win-win policy, and another responded that it was a win-win-win proposal. Then Senator Mark Montigny proclaimed it was "win-win-win-win."

We agree. How many wins do you want?

  1. Reduce smoking, particularly by youth: Higher prices decrease smoking initiation by teens, and encourage people (particularly low income people, Blacks and Hispanics) to quit. The $1 cigarette tax increase will prevent around 27,000 youth from starting to smoke, and lead 25,000 adults (mostly young adults) to quit smoking.
  2. Improve our health. Decreased smoking and use of other tobacco products will have immediate impacts on health, and even greater long-term health benefits. Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body. The CDC says that one of three cancer deaths is caused by smoking. Smoking increases the risk of death by coronary heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive lung diseases, and many other diseases. Less smoking means healthier babies, too.
  3. Reduced health care spending. A healthier population costs less to take care of. This Massachusetts tax increase will save the state nearly $1 billion in long-term health care costs. The savings will be felt particularly for MassHealth and other subsidized insurance programs, saving costs for state taxpayers.
  4. More revenue for Massachusetts. Even as smoking declines, revenues still increase. This has happened for every previous tax increase in Massachusetts, and in every other state that increased its tobacco tax. This morning, WBUR quoted someone from a hard-right anti-tax group in Michigan worrying about smuggling decreasing revenue. Yet even in New York City, the capital of cigarette smuggling, increased tobacco taxes led to more revenue.  Non-partisan DOR analysts confirmed the revenue assumptions for the bill.

We're particularly pleased that the new law finally equalizes taxes on smokeless tobacco, little cigars and other non-cigarette products. Their tax rate had fallen way behind the cigarette levy, leading to an explosion in use of these products by teens.

The tax increase provides a sterling opportunity to leverage an investment in resources to help people quit tobacco use. Spending on the state's tobacco control program has fallen dramatically  - see the inflation-adjusted chart below from the Mass Budget and Policy Center's budget browser:

Chart showing steep drop in appropriations for tobacco control line itemCongratulations to our partners at Tobacco Free Mass, American Cancer Society, and the American Heart/Stroke Association for this win. And this win. And this win. And this win....
-Brian Rosman