The American Cancer Society (ACS) is enraged over a recent finding that low-income smokers (those earning less $30,000 a year) spend around a quarter of their income on cigarettes while only about two percent of the income of rich smokers (those earning more than $60,000 a year) are spent the same way. The finding was based on the study conducted by the RTI’s Public Health Policy Research Program based on New York state statistics.
Russ Sciandra of ACS says the government collects about $600 million from poor consumers in taxes on cigarettes but gives nothing in return to help them quit smoking. Thus, being surrounded by smokers and having no means to buy smoking cessation aids, poor people usually have less success on quitting smoking. She emphasized that current tax policies that supposedly deters smoking are in fact regressive and not at all effective as a deterrent.
The RTI International finding directly contradicts other previous studies that show higher excise taxes helped curbed smoking. Family and community medicine professor Dr. John Spangler of the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center says excise taxes helped reduce and eliminate smoking in many areas and are thus looked upon favorably by the both government and private policy experts.
Dr. Spangler, however, agrees that a substantial chunk of cigarette tax money should be spent on programs geared towards curbing smoking. “What must be done, in the name for fairness, is to use the ‘excessive taxation’ which the poor pay to help them stop smoking,” explains Spangler.
Peter Constantakes of the New York state Health Department insists higher taxes are instrumental in curbing smoking. “Cigarette taxes are an evidence-based intervention that has proven successful in encouraging smokers to quit,” Constantakes emphasized. He listed anti-smoking initiatives being done, including targeted media campaigns for low-income and young people.