Despite the fact I trained at an institution (and am quite grateful for the opportunity that was afforded to me) that was built on tobacco money, and I do, admittedly, enjoy the occasional fine cigar (only in the presence of consenting adults), there is also no doubt today where I stand on the routine use of cigarettes – don’t do it, especially if you are pregnant or around young children. In the next few weeks, we will, in the State of South Carolina, have the opportunity to ‘make a difference’ as the State legislature considers raising the cigarette tax. So pardon my soapbox, but today I am going to get up on one!
The average state cigarette tax in the U.S. is $1.02. The current tax in South Carolina is $0.07! That tax has not been raised since 1977, despite what we have learned in the interim about the impact of cigarette use on health of the individual and overall health care costs and the widespread use of tobacco products in our state. Indeed, it is estimated that state and federally-funded health care costs are $7.66 for each pack of cigarettes sold in SC! We have good evidence to support that one out of every five low birth weight babies born in the U.S. is directly attributable to maternal cigarette use during pregnancy. We also know that low birth weight, either by itself, or as a consequence of prematurity, dramatically increases both short-term and long-term health care problems and costs for the child. Unfortunately, South Carolina is one of the country’s leaders in both prematurity and low birth weight with the combination of the two resulting in more than 15% of all births in our state. These babies typically incur neonatal health care expenses 10-20 times that of term and normally grown infants. This year, there will be about 6,000 low birth weight babies born in SC, and approximately 1,200 will be the result of maternal smoking, and therefore could have been prevented.
Anyway, it is my hope, and if you feel the same way, please feel free to participate at a grass roots level, that we can convince our state legislators to provide a significant increase in the cigarette tax (how about $1.00 per pack?!?). Hopefully, this will encourage some folks to quit, discourage others from starting, provide revenue to improve health care in South Carolina, and provide funds to counter the ongoing marketing by the cigarette industry that is still directed at attracting young people of ‘child-bearing age’ into their fold. If the increase is significant enough, it might also help with the illegal trafficking across state lines that is currently encouraged by the big profits to be made because of the current differential, as well as encourage comparable tax increases in adjacent southeastern states.