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Tax credited for smoking decline

Recent reports indicate that some legislation tough on tobacco companies is beginning to lead to a decrease in the amount of smokers in both Wisconsin and the United States.

A statement yesterday from SmokeFree Wisconsin said since April 1, 2009, when President Barack Obama raised the tax on cigarettes from $0.39 to $1.01, one million adults on Medicaid stopped smoking, which should result in cheaper health care for taxpayers.

This tax increase, along with the statewide public smoking ban from 2010, has made Wisconsin more closely resemble smoke-free state.

Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, wrote the Smoke-Free Wisconsin Act. This act ensures smoke-free air in restaurants, bars and workplaces throughout Wisconsin. Richards said making cigarettes more expensive is an effective way of reducing smoking, particularly for young people.

"The smoke-free workplace law we passed in 2010 and tobacco prevention efforts are also working to significantly reduce smoking among children and adults across Wisconsin. Yet, smoking still remains the leading cause of preventable death in Wisconsin," Richards said in an email to The Badger Herald. "Our work is far from done."

Maureen Busalacchi, executive director of SmokeFree Wisconsin, agreed raising taxes on cigarettes has proven to be effective in discouraging young people from smoking. Busalacchi said she also thinks the tax increase has encouraged people who want to quit smoking to follow through with it.

Busalacchi also noted some people have moved to candy cigarettes, which are taxed less. Busalacchi said she thinks all types of cigarettes, tobacco or not, should be taxed equally, including candy cigarettes. She also said better programs should exist in all parts of Wisconsin to help smokers quit.

"It has been shown in the past that people do quit smoking when the taxes on cigarettes are raised," Busalacchi said. "More needs to be done to reduce smoking in our state. Programs should be made available in more places in Wisconsin to help smokers quit smoking."

Director of University Health Services Sarah Van Orman said she is also in favor of the tax increase on cigarettes. She said it has been proven to reduce smoking and decrease the amount of individuals who start smoking. Van Orman said more funding is needed to ensure all individuals have access to programs and counseling to help them quit smoking.

According to Van Orman, these programs are partially funded through lawsuits against tobacco companies, but some of that funding has been lost. If more people had the resources to quit, then the state would be one step closer to reducing smoking-related diseases, Van Orman said.

"Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in Wisconsin, and one of the reasons health care costs are high," Van Orman said. "Smoking causes diseases such as cancer and congestive heart failure. Raising the taxes on cigarettes will ultimately decrease the amount of youth smokers, which should lead to a long-term reduction of smoking throughout the nation."

Pete Madland, executive director of the Wisconsin Tavern League, said the League opposed the smoking ban during the legislation. He said it has had a negative effect on taverns across the state.

Madland said members of the League tell him people spend less time in the bars and instead go to the liquor store, get a six pack of beer and go home. He added there will likely not be an effort to overturn the ban despite it's detriment to taverns.

"Our members are trying to adjust to the law and according to polls, the smoking ban is very popular throughout the state, so I don't see any politician taking the incentive to try and change it," Madland said.

Published: Friday, September 14, 2012

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