Several health groups are urging Ohio lawmakers to consider raising taxes on tobacco to help fill the state's projected $8 billion budget deficit.
The proposal would raise the cost of a pack of cigarettes by approximately $1.25 and smokeless tobacco by about the same amount, according to Shelly Kiser, American Lung Association director of advocacy.
"We anticipate the cigarette tax would generate $300 (million) to $400 million for the state (annually)," Kiser said. "Raising the other tobacco tax (which would include smokeless and home-rolled tobacco) is expected to generate about $50 million, which we want to be used to fund tobacco prevention and tobacco-cessation programs."
In addition to the lung association, the measure is being supported by the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association. The groups released two studies Wednesday that suggest raising tobacco taxes would generate a safe, predictable revenue and that investing a portion of that revenue in cessation programs would save the state millions in health care costs.
Ohio Rep. Jennifer Garrison, D-Marietta, said similar proposals have been made in the past, but received little support.
"It was not a popular idea in the past because there's already such a high tax on tobacco," she said.
The annual direct cost to Ohio's economy attributable to smoking is in excess of $13.8 billion.
$2.9 billion in workplace productivity losses.
$5.7 billion in premature death losses.
$5.2 billion in direct medical costs.
A decline of one percentage point in adult smoking rates in Ohio will save the state $837.9 million in health-care costs, including $148.5 million in Medicaid costs.
Source: Investing in Tobacco-Free Youth Coalition.
Ohio Sen. Jimmy Stewart, R-Athens, said he would entertain the arguments for raising taxes, but that the health groups need to back up their arguments.
"When is enough enough?" Stewart asked. "How much is enough? We've spent millions upon millions already, and everyone already knows this product is bad for their health, and taxes have already been raised considerably over the past few years."
Kiser said the new studies clearly show how raising taxes will help the state and overall health of Ohioans.
"I think the legislators are really starting to understand more and more about preventable diseases and how we can save by spending a dollar now rather than $5 later," Kiser said.
A study conducted by researchers at Penn State University puts the combined financial cost attributable to each pack of cigarettes sold at approximately $20.88 per pack. That includes workplace productivity losses, premature death losses and direct medical costs. According to the study, Ohio incurs $13.8 billion in a direct costs from smoking.
The second study, conducted by University of Illinois Professer Frank J. Chaloupka indicates that a decline of one percentage point in adult smoking rates will save Ohio $837.9 million in health care costs, including $148.5 million in state Medicaid costs.
"Forty-three percent of Medicaid recipients in Ohio smoke," Kiser said. "That's a big part of the state's health care costs, and a bigger part of future tobacco-related illnesses."
Marietta resident Dave Skinner, 59, said he has been using tobacco since he was 16. He's tried to quit several times, but never with any luck.
"I still smoke some, but use (smokeless tobacco) a lot more, just because you can't smoke anywhere anymore," he said.
Skinner said raising taxes in Ohio will only force more people to buy their tobacco across state borders.
"Everyone I know drives to Williamstown to buy their cigarettes there because they're cheaper," he said. "Chewing tobacco and the other stuff is all about the same price, so I still buy it here. But if they raise the price, I'll just drive across the river."
Taxes on tobacco last went up in March when a 62-cent federal tax was implemented. Ohio tacks on an additional $1.25 per pack, bringing the average cost of a pack of cigarettes in Ohio today to about $5.
Stephanie Davis, who heads up the Washington County Tobacco Prevention Program, said the program saw a wave of people interested in quitting after the most recent tax hike.
"That sort of thing usually motivates a lot of people to try to quit," she said. "A lot of people back then said they couldn't afford it and that they wanted to quit."
The local program started in 2004 and has helped more than 1,500 people quit using tobacco. Also, the group has been in contact with over 10,000 children through their tobacco education efforts.
Davis said the program is currently funded though grants that come from the master tobacco settlement agreement. Past tax hikes in Ohio have not gone to support prevention efforts.
Chaplouka's study indicates the revenue from a tobacco tax hike would decrease as fewer people purchase the products, but those losses are "modest, predictable and offset by the related reductions in public and private sector health care and other economic costs caused by smoking," according to a release about the studies.
Former Marietta resident Phyllis Longgrear, now of Boaz, W.Va., said she went through the cessation program at Selby General Hospital about six years ago. She said she had smoked for nearly six decades before she finally quit.
"Smoking had just taken over my life, and then it got to the point where the government got involved and you couldn't smoke anywhere anymore, and I knew it was time to quit," she said. "If they can help someone like me, who smoked as much as I did and who was as determined to smoke as I was, they can help anyone. It's a great program, and I hope they continue to fund it until everyone quits."