NEXT time you hear a lobbyist for the tobacco industry...

Salmagundi

June 02, 1993

NEXT time you hear a lobbyist for the tobacco industry complain about the proposed $2-a-pack increase in federal taxes on cigarettes, consider this: The United States, with a federal tax of 56 cents a pack, is one of the lowest-taxing nations in the industrial world.

In three countries, according to the Worldwatch Institute, taxes are now above $3 a pack -- Denmark ($3.68), Norway ($3.33) and Canada ($3.01.). In several others they are between $2 and $3, including Sweden ($2.87), the United Kingdom ($2.55) and Germany ($2.11).

Canadian officials realized long ago that heavy taxing of tobacco products makes triple good sense: It cuts government spending on health care (the primary rationale for "sin taxes"). Workers are healthier and more productive; they take less sick leave. And the taxes bring in revenue that helps finance health care.

Smoking-induced lung cancer causes 112,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Smoking also increases the incidence of several other types of cancer, including cervical, esophageal and pancreatic cancer. Smoking is related to deaths from strokes, aneurysms, hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases, and it contributes to respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, bronchitis and emphysema, which add another 80,000 deaths a year. The total annual toll related to smoking is at least half a million lives.

Canada realized this 12 years ago, when it began raising its average tax from 38 cents in 1980 to $3.01. In those 12 years teen-age smoking has been reduced by more than two-thirds and adult smoking by half. Canada is a healthier country for high cigarette taxes, and the U.S. could be, too.

Worldwatch, a worldwide environmental organization, estimates that the additional tax of $2 could cut smoking rates enough to save more U.S. lives over this decade than were lost in battle during World War II.

Of all of the recommendations in the president's economic recovery program, the one that would be most infuriating to see shot down by special interests is the proposal for higher tobacco taxes.

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