More than 10,000 children in North Carolina will become regular smokers this year. For every pack of cigarettes sold in the state, it costs North Carolina taxpayers $7.17 per pack in healthcare costs to treat the serious chronic diseases brought on by cigarette smoking.
These are just some of the reasons that the Macon County Board of Health has voted to support a $1 tax increase on cigarettes being proposed by organizations like TRU – Tobacco, Reality, Unfiltered – and other anti-smoking groups in the state.
TRU is the North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund's initiative that includes both the state's youth movement and the powerful TRU media campaigns working to dissuade youth from using tobacco products.
At a recent meeting of the board, Dawn Wilde, Health Educator for Macon County Schools, introduced three student representatives from TRU clubs in the county. Sarah Hussey (Mountain View Intermediate), Madison Shuler (Macon Middle School) and Cody Travis (Franklin High School) each addressed the board members, telling them why they had joined TRU and how cigarette smoking had affected them and their families.
“I joined TRU because I want to help people who use tobacco quit, which includes my dad,” Travis told the board. He said that his dad has suffered from health problems from smoking all his life.
Shuler told the board how tobacco use had brought tragedy to her family. “I joined TRU because I lost my grandpa because he did tobacco.” She added that her father is also addicted to tobacco. “He can't stop,” she sad. Shuler said she wants to set an example and be an inspiration to other kids to not start smoking.
Hussey said that smoking and tobacco use has also impacted her family. She told the board that her club had recently gone outside and picked up 144 cigarette butts in less than 20 minutes. “It hurts our environment and it hurts other people,” she said of smoking.
“We might be small, but small people can make a difference too,” Shuler said of the students campaign to reduce smoking in the state.
According to Wilde, North Carolina households shell out about $572 on average each year to cover the healthcare costs of governmental expenditures related to smoking. She noted that each 10 percent increase in cigarette tax has been seen to reduce use by 4 percent.
Macon County Health Director Jim Bruckner read the resolution before it was passed by the board by a vote of nine to two. In it, he noted that the use of tobacco products is the leading cause of preventable death and disability in the state.
Studies have shown that the best way to prevent and reduce the use of tobacco by children is to substantially increase the cost of cigarettes. A cigarette tax increase of a dollar would result in a 15.4 percent decrease in youth smoking rates, prevent 81,200 children from becoming addicted adult smokers and save 39,100 young people from premature smoking related deaths, said Bruckner.
The North Carolina cigarette tax is currently 45 cents, the seventh lowest in the nation. The average cigarette tax in other states is $1.45. The use of tobacco products costs the state $2.5 billion in direct healthcare costs, $769 million in medicaid expenses and $3.3 billion in lost productivity annually.
Bruckner also noted that North Carolina faces a steep budget deficit and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future, and governmental costs of tobacco cut into other important programs affecting the health and well-being of North Carolinians. An increase of a $1 in the cigarette tax would generate $338 million in new revenue in the first year.