Friday, February 23, 2018

Advocates urge lawmakers to raise cigarette tax to raise revenue, cut cancer rates; 1/3 of Ky. cancer cases are caused by smoking

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- At a Feb. 22 rally in the state Capitol, more than 100 advocates from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network asked Kentucky lawmakers to implement a policy measure proven to decrease smoking rates -- raising the state's cigarette tax. The ask if for an increase of $1 per pack, to $1.60.

Dr. Jason Chesney, surrounded by seven Kentuckians
holding pictures of loved ones who died from smoking-
related cancers, says it's time for Kentucky to increase its
per-pack cigarette tax by $1 to save lives and raise revenue.
Dr. Jason Chesney, director of the University of Louisville's James Graham Brown Cancer Center, told the advocates that Kentucky leads the nation in the number of people with cancer and deaths from it, and that one-third of all cancers in the state are caused by smoking.

"This is a health crisis . . . like no other state in the country, and we have to stop this vicious cycle today." he said. "This is the time."

Chesney pointed out that Kentucky has some of the highest smoking rates in the nation, with 25 percent of its adults and 16 percent of its teens smoking. The Cancer Society says that raising the cigarette tax by $1 would keep more than 23,000 Kentucky teens from ever smoking and would result in over 29,000 adults quitting.

Chesney said fewer teens smoking would eventually mean fewer adults smoking, making for a healthier Kentucky and huge savings to the state. He said smoking costs the state $1.9 billion in annual health-care costs, with more than $500 million of that in the federal-state Medicaid program. "On average, this means that a typical household has to pay an extra $1,100 in annual taxes per year," he said.

He added, "I strongly believe that this initiative will have a greater impact on the health and welfare of Kentuckians than anything that I can do in my lifetime and anything any of my colleagues at the University of Louisville or the University of Kentucky could do in their lifetimes." he said.

Dr. Mark Evers, director of UK's Markey Cancer Center, also said the "time is right" to pass this cigarette tax, noting that Kentucky has one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the nation. "Right now in Kentucky, with the highest rates of lung cancer and smoking, our cigarette excise tax is 60 cents," he said. The national average is $1.72 per pack.

Angela Criswell, the senior manager of medical outreach for the Lung Cancer Alliance, said smoking causes at least 12 kinds of cancer, and that nearly one in five deaths is attributable to it.

"Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of cancer death and cause of death in the U.S.," she said. She added that raising the cigarette tax by $1 in Kentucky would also help the 60 percent of adults who say they want to quit do so.

Sixth-graders from Corbin Intermediate School (L-R) Bailyn
Scent, who told advocates her great-grandfather had died
from lung cancer; Andrew Collins, and Grayson Maggard.
(Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky photo)
Roger Cline, a cancer society volunteer who lost his wife to lung cancer, though she never smoked in her 59 years, said that while it was too late to help his wife, he called on Kentucky legislators to raise the cigarette tax by $1 to keep 23,000 young Kentuckians from ever smoking. Students from Corbin Intermediate School were at the rally in support of the tax.

Pam Pilgrim, who is the cancer society's lead volunteer in Kentucky, noted the estimated $266 million in annual revenue from the higher tax and said, "The bottom line is plain and simple. We need to save more lives in Kentucky and the state needs more revenue. A tobacco tax increase could go a long way toward solving both of these problems."

The rally was the fifth in a series sponsored by the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, which comprises nearly 150 organizations that support efforts to decrease smoking in the state, including the tax hike. The other rallies have focused on smoking and pregnancy, teenagers, behavioral health and heart health. The coalition is headed by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which funds Kentucky Health News but has no editorial control of it.

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