Heftier Tobacco Taxes Hurting Low-Income Smokers the Most, Survey Finds

Published on October 2nd, 2012 00:00

Larger tobacco taxes could be financially harming low-income tobacco users instead of helping them get rid of their habit, found a new research by the scientists from RTI International.

The study was based on a poll, which covered nearly 13,000 people across New York State. According to the poll results, smokers on limited income living in the State, paid almost a quarter of their overall income to buy cigarettes, in comparison to an average 2 percent paid by smokers with middle- and high-income.

excise tax on cigarettes

The nationwide average paid by low-income adult smokers – who are living on an annual income of under $25,000 — totaled14 percent, concluded the study, released last week at PLOS ONE.

New York is home to the highest excise taxes on cigarettes compared to the other states — $4.35 per pack versus the nationwide average of $1.46 for a pack of 20 cigarettes.

Yet even with the heftier tobacco taxes, the state has not reported a reduction among lower-income tobacco users’ rates within the last decade, said RTI, a non-governmental research organization which carried out the survey, sponsored the New York State Health Department.

“Excise tobacco taxes are powerful in adjusting smokers’ attitudes,” Matthew Farrelly, director and lead scientist in public health policy research at the RTI, who led the study, declared in a statement. “However not all adult smokers are capable to stop smoking, and lower-income tobacco consumers are unfairly hurt by such taxes.”

Nevertheless, earlier reports have demonstrated that larger taxes have reduced smoking rates. Dr. John Spangler, family and community medicine professor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center believes the results the excise tax has achieved in decreasing and eradicating tobacco use in some locations is sufficient to maintain the strategy.

According to Dr. Spangler, more focus should be put on where the funds from taxes are directed to.

“What would be the fairest thing to do is to direct the money from ‘excessive taxation’ paid by low-income citizens to help them quit smoking,” declared Spangler.

The substantial price of treatments or alternative smoking cessation methods is one of the top boundaries of kicking the habit for those who are willing to do that, mentioned Spangler, suggesting that the money generated by the excise tax might be spent on lowering the cost of smoking cessation therapies, or spreading smoking-preventions educational programs in poor neighborhoods.

The scientists also believe directing the money back to the low-income smokers would be the most appropriate way to help them quit smoking.

“Spending a part of the earnings from tobacco excise taxes for specific programs which help smokers on limited income to stop smoking could help reduce the regressivity of such excise taxes,” the scientists wrote.