Monday, February 26, 2018

$100,000 advertising campaign for cigarette-tax hike will remind Kentuckians of the damage done to them by smoking

Screenshot of opening segment of one TV commercial
By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Kentuckians will be being reminded of their state's suffering from smoking in a way not seen before, a $100,000 advertising campaign advocating a $1-a-pack increase in the state cigarette tax.

Television commercials, billboards, digital media and print ads from the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow use health concerns as the reason to raise the 60-cent tax to $1.60, which would be the same as Ohio's but less than Indiana's 99.5 cents and Tennessee's 62 cents. The ads are to run through March, when the General Assembly will deal with the state budget and a shortage of revenue.

"Kentucky is the cancer capital of the nation," one TV spot begins. "Isn't changing this fact worth a dollar more?" Those last three words are the theme of the campaign, which calls on Kentuckians to learn more on the coalition's website and then ask legislators to vote for the tax increase. Another spot cites estimates the hike would reduce smoking enough to improve the health of 1,180 babies.

"Nearly 21 percent of Kentucky women smoke cigarettes during pregnancy, double the national rate," the coalition noted in a news release. "The rate exceeds 30 percent in 35 Kentucky counties, and 40 percent in four counties. Among high school-aged youth, 14.3 percent smoke, compared to a national rate of 8 percent."

The ads are part of a lobbying contest with tobacco manufacturers, who have enlisted tobacco farmers and convenience stores as allies. Kentucky has fewer than 5,000 tobacco growers, but its long history of tens of thousands of small farmers raising tobacco has left a lingering resistance to anti-tobacco measures in the General Assembly.

Voters seem less reluctant. The coalition notes a December poll done for it by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, which found that 69 percent of Kentucky voters supported raising the tax $1 per pack. Support rose to 73 percent when voters were told that the tax hike would generate an estimated $266 million a year and save even more in health-care expenses by reducing smoking.

The coalition says it has more than 150 business, health, education, faith-based and advocacy organizations, led by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, "working together to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke in Kentucky." It notes that the surgeon general has called raising cigarette prices "one of the most effective tobacco-control interventions," especially among people under 18 and those with low incomes.

The $1 increase would be much more than the last one, in 2009, when the tax was raised from 30 cents. Advocates say the increase must be at least $1 per pack, because experience in other states has shown that "tobacco companies will undermine the price impact of a lesser tax increase with coupons and other discounts," said Amy Barkley of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

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