Two bills before the South Carolina Legislature propose increasing the state cigarette tax. These bills represent an important step toward protecting South Carolina's kids and taxpayers from the devastating toll of tobacco.
State Reps. Rex Rice and Paul Agnew and their many co-sponsors are making our kids and public health a priority by introducing bills to raise the cigarette tax by 30 cents and 32 cents, respectively. Rep. Rice's bill (H.B. 4888) also raises the tax by an additional 5 cents for each of the next two years (making the increase 40 cents), and designates 4 percent of the revenue to youth smoking prevention. Rep. Agnew's bill (H.B. 4850) designates $1.5 million for youth-smoking prevention, and adds a cost-of-living increase so that the tax increases automatically at the rate of inflation.
South Carolina's cigarette tax is the lowest in the nation at 7 cents. The national average is 92 cents and rising. The current proposals are a great starting point. We call on South Carolina's leaders to pass an even higher cigarette tax increase - 93 cents, which will bring significant health and revenue benefits to South Carolina and raise the state's cigarette tax to the national average.
The higher the cigarette tax, the more kids will be prevented from smoking. Studies show every 10-percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by about 7 percent, and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent. In recent years, every state that has significantly increased its cigarette tax has experienced major increases in revenue even while reducing cigarette sales.
Also, South Carolina currently spends no state funds on tobacco prevention and cessation. It would take just a small percentage of the new cigarette tax revenue to increase funding for tobacco prevention, leaving plenty for other purposes.
By increasing the cigarette tax, South Carolina can protect its kids from tobacco, save lives and save money.
H. James Gooden
G. Fred Worsham, M.D.
David J. Markiewicz
(Editor's note; The writers are, respectively, the chairman of the board of directors for the American Lung Association's Southeast Region; the president of the American Cancer Society's South Atlantic Division; and the executive vice president of the American Heart Association's Mid-Atlantic Affiliate.)