Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias It�s natural for us, especially here in the heart of the conservative heartland, to cringe at the mention of a tax increase.

We can�t help but wonder, however, if it isn�t time for South Dakota to crank up the tax rates a notch on cigarettes.

Why? Well, it�s always easy to call for an increase in a �sin� tax. And, naturally, we all know that smoking is bad for the smoker, for those exposed to second-hand smoke, and to our society in general.

Numerous studies have shown that increasing cigarette excise taxes is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking among both youth and adults. These studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes will reduce overall cigarette consumption by 3 to 5 percent and reduce youth smoking by about 7 percent.

In recent years, many states have raised cigarette tax rates, and in every case, they have reduced cigarette consumption while increasing revenues to balance budgets and fund vital programs. These states are also reducing the millions they spend each year on tobacco-related medical costs.

One important study, released April 24, 2001, shows that cigarette tax increases are especially effective at preventing kids from becoming regular, addicted smokers. If cigarette prices were raised just 10 percent per pack nationwide, it would reduce the number of kids who become regular smokers by more than a million, saving them from addiction, disease and death.

There was an effort to increase the excise tax on cigarettes in South Dakota during the 2002 legislative session, but the measure failed in the House Taxation Committee.

A 10 percent increase in the price of a pack of cigarettes in South Dakota (27 cents per pack increase) would raise approximately $15 million in new state cigarette tax and sales tax revenue and result in 2,400 fewer South Dakota kids who start smoking. It is also estimated that such a tax increase would compel 1,900 current adult smokers to quit.

South Dakota�s excise tax is currently 33 cents per pack, among the lowest in the region. Only Wyoming and Montana have lower state excise taxes on cigarettes than South Dakota.

We last increased our excise tax on cigarettes in 1995 by 10 cents. That increase led to a 5.6 percent decline in cigarette consumption. State revenues increased by 40.4 percent or $6.1 million in new revenue.

According to the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids, nearly one-third, or 16,000 high school students in the state smoke, and 2,400 kids under the age of 18 become new daily smokers each year.

The number of South Dakota adults who smoke is 117,000, or nearly 22 percent of the state�s adult population.

This is more than just a nasty habit. It�s deadly. One thousand South Dakota adults die each year from their own smoking. It is estimated that 20,000 kids under the age of 18 in the state will die prematurely from smoking. And from 90 to 160 adults, children and babies in South Dakota die each year from being exposed to secondhand smoke.

A December 2000 poll conducted by the American Cancer Society showed broad public support among South Dakota voters for an increase in the tax on tobacco products to fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs and as a tool to further encourage smokers to quit.

Research shows that a price increase is only one of the tools necessary to sustain reduced levels of tobacco use. This must be coupled with efforts to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, community and school based programs, counter advertising, active enforcement, and cessation and healthcare services to reduce the impact of tobacco use on the state.

It�s time for the state Legislature to address this issue once more. We know it�s unpopular for politicians to call for a tax increase, but in the case of cigarette excise taxes, we hope they will make an exception.

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