Home » OPINION: Cigarette tax increase will improve the health of Kentuckians

OPINION: Cigarette tax increase will improve the health of Kentuckians

By Dan Goulson, MD, chief medical officer, KentuckyOne Health

Ron Waldridge, MD, chief medical officer and president, Jewish Hospital

February marks American Heart Month, a time when people are encouraged to take charge of their health and enact a heart-healthy lifestyle to help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. And while several factors can increase a person’s risk for developing heart disease, Kentuckians in particular are vulnerable because of our high smoking rates, which are among the highest in the nation.

KentuckyOne Health encourages regular screenings to help detect heart disease, as well as lung cancer, early-on, because we know early detection goes a long way to enhancing treatment. While Kentuckians can find out about screening opportunities at all of our hospitals around the Commonwealth, we’d much rather see fewer cases of heart disease or lung cancer in the first place. We need to work together to reduce the unacceptable number of deaths across the state attributed to smoking.

While some Kentuckians have been able to quit smoking—sometimes on their own, sometimes with the help of managed smoking cessation programs—for others, the addiction and the habit are too difficult to break, despite the desire to quit. We need to explore new ways to help people quit or even not start smoking in the first place.

By raising Kentucky’s cigarette tax by at least $1 per pack, we can help reduce the rate of smoking and that will save lives. Within one year of quitting smoking, the risk of coronary heart disease decreases by half. In just 12 weeks, a person’s circulation and lung function improves.

The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow needs our help to convince lawmakers that enough is enough, and that we have watched too many friends and family members die as a result of smoking, and heart disease or lung cancer connected to smoking.

The Coalition is a diverse group of health care professionals, community and business organizations and advocates that is speaking with one voice and one goal. The organization is seeking an increase in Kentucky’s cigarette tax from just 60 cents a pack to $1.60 per pack, along with other efforts to enact smoke-free ordinances in communities without one, and educating the public and health care providers about cessation resources.

It’s never easy for a lawmaker to enact a tax, but with Kentucky’s current cigarette tax among the lowest in the country, and smoking rates among the highest, something has to give. The health of Kentuckians depends on it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that increasing cigarette prices by just 10 percent has been estimated to reduce overall cigarette consumption by 3 to 5 percent, and that young adults and youth are two to three times more likely to respond to the price increase But it takes at least a $1 excise tax increase to create an effective price increase – tobacco companies can undermine anything less than a $1 tax increase with coupons and other price promotions. If we get the $1/pack increase, however, we can help set the stage for our children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren to lead a healthier life – a life without cigarettes.

Not only will a $1 per pack increase have an impact in deterring smoking, it will also result in reduced health care costs across Kentucky. Fewer smokers would result in a decrease in hospitalizations, as well as medication and outpatient costs.

Currently, smoking-related health care costs exceed $1.9 billion in the Commonwealth. When you take medical care, along with the cost of lost productivity due to that care and the exposure to secondhand smoke, it becomes not just an expensive habit for the smoker, but for everyone.

We at KentuckyOne Health are dedicated to bringing wellness, healing and hope to all, including the underserved. We are proud to stand by the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, supporting them in urging Kentucky lawmakers to be bold leaders and enact this tax increase. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of Kentuckians. We urge our legislators and Governor to put the health of all Kentuckians first, leading to a healthier and stronger future for us all.

 Supported by: Nezar Falluji, MD; Samer Kseibi, MD; Eli Colon, MD; David Blake, MD; Robert Salley, MD; Richard Floyd, MD; Greg Anderson, MD; Kahlil Rahman, MD; Jamil Farooqui, MD; John Harris, MD; John Stewart, MD; Jacqueline Matar, MD; Nick Abedi, MD; Jessica Croley, MD; Shelley Stanko, MD; and Syed Bokhari, MD.