Should Tobacco Taxes Fund Quitting?

Taxes on tobacco products are supposed to help people quit but have been spent on other priorities

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) High taxes on tobacco products have prompted a lot of people to quit smoking, but it’s missed the mark among low-income households. Looks like this tax revenue should fund cessation efforts to reduce health costs.

A recent study looked at how much people spent on cigarettes in 2003/04 compared to 2010/11.

Results found that low-income groups still smoke just as much, no matter the tax hikes.

"Call 1-800-Quit-Now."

Matthew C. Farrelly, PhD, chief scientist and senior director of Public Health Policy Research Program at Research Triangle Institute International (RTI) in North Carolina, was the lead author of the study.

Dr. Farrelly said, “Excise taxes are effective in changing smokers’ behavior. But not all smokers are able to quit, and low-income smokers are disproportionately burdened by these taxes.”

For the study, 1,294 smokers in New York State and 748 U.S. smokers outside New York were compared to 7,536 non-smokers from New York and 3,777 non-smokers U.S. smokers outside New York.

Household income categories were split into less than $30,000 per year, between $30,000-$59,999 and over $60,000 per year.

New York has a $4.35 tax on every cigarette pack sold in the state. Nationally 22 percent of people smoke, whereas in New York, only 16 percent of people are smokers.

Researchers found that in 2010-2011, the under $30,000 per year income group in New York spent 24 percent of their annual income on cigarettes. This percentage is an increase from 12 percent in 2003-2004 rates.

Dr. Farrelly said, “Special efforts are needed to reduce smoking among those with low incomes. States, especially New York, generate significant revenue from cigarette taxes, but only a small percentage of that money is used for tobacco control programs.”

“It seems only fair that states with high cigarette taxes should adequately fund cessation interventions for low-income smokers who shoulder a disproportionate share of cigarette taxes.”

This study was published in September in PLOS ONE.

Funding for this study was supported by the New York State Department of Health. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 8, 2012
Last Updated:
October 18, 2012