Federal tobacco tax inequitable

A federal tax increase in tobacco products to fund S-CHIP unjustly burdens low-income smokers.

The cost of lighting up is soon going to be anything but light. On Feb. 4, President Barack Obama signed a law that will increase the tax on tobacco products in order to fund the State ChildrenâÄôs Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which makes health care more affordable for children from low-income families. While the proceeds from these taxes would support an important program, placing the burden of paying for it solely on smokers is both unfair and inequitable. The federal tax increase affects all tobacco products, but loose tobacco is facing the most significant change âÄî from a $1.10 per pound tax to a whopping $24.78 per pound tax. Certainly, SCHIP ought to receive full support in government budgets. Ensuring that every child has access to health care is an obligation that both the state and federal governments need to honor, because no child should be denied access to a healthy life on the basis of family income. But itâÄôs simply unfair to place the entirety of this burden on the shoulders of tobacco users through such a massive tax increase. According to the Center for Disease Control, 20.8 percent of all American adults smoke, but 30.6 percent of adults below the poverty line are smokers. This means that this massive tax increase disproportionately impacts the individuals who are least able to afford it. Lower-income individuals also have the greatest difficulty in reducing their use of tobacco because they cannot easily afford products like nicotine patches that might help them overcome their addictions. And according to the American Lung Association, about 20 percent of college students smoke. These taxes, then, also fall to cash-strapped college students for whom smoking is an addiction âÄî not something they can just give up due to rising costs. Since the federal tax increase on tobacco was already approved, the federal government should now concentrate on providing better assistance to low-income smokers whose options for quitting are few. This editorial, accessed via UWire, was originally published in the Michigan Daily at the University of Michigan. Please send comments to [email protected].