Gov. John Kasich’s plan to increase taxes on all tobacco products is bad tax policy, built on an unscientific, unsuccessful anti-smoker strategy: Quit or die.
Only one component of the governor’s plan makes sense — increasing the cigarette excise tax. Economic studies show that a 10 percent increase in cigarette price leads to a 1 to 7 percent reduction in smoking rates and a 1 to 3 percent reduction in cigarette consumption. However, while some smokers will quit or cut back, many others will persist.
We recommend an option that is fiscally responsible and that could save lives: Raise cigarette excise taxes, but keep those on smoke-free tobacco products (smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes) proportionately low and commensurate with their vastly lower health risks.
Research shows that higher cigarette taxes cause smokers to adopt less expensive tobacco products. Smoke-free tobacco products are effective cigarette substitutes because they deliver satisfying doses of nicotine. Nicotine, one of the most intensively studied drugs in history, is addictive but does not cause any smoking-related disease. Its safety profile is comparable to that of another addictive substance, caffeine.
Decades of studies reveal that smokeless tobacco use is at least 98 percent less hazardous than smoking. Unlike cigarettes, smokeless does not cause lung cancer, heart disease or emphysema. In fact, lifelong smokeless users have about the same risk of dying from that habit as automobile users have of dying in a car wreck. Although e-cigarettes have been on the market only for several years, tobacco research and policy experts agree that these products confer about the same health risk as smokeless tobacco.
The Royal College, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious medical societies, concluded “... that smokers smoke predominantly for nicotine, that nicotine itself is not especially hazardous, and that if nicotine could be provided in a form that is acceptable and effective as a cigarette substitute, millions of lives could be saved.”
Cigarettes confer high health risks and should be taxed at high rates, while smoke-free tobacco products have minimal health risks and deserve far lower taxes.
In 2005, Kentucky became the first state to use risk as a benchmark for different tobacco excise taxes. This rational tax policy would allow Buckeye State lawmakers to demonstrate fiscal responsibility while fulfilling their moral obligation to help inveterate smokers lead longer and healthier lives.
Brad Rodu Nantapron Plurphanswat, Louisville, Ky.
Rodu is a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville and Plurphanswat is a research economist at the Brown Cancer Center in Louisville.