The calculus is simple: When the cost of tobacco rises, cigarette consumption declines. With the new $1 state excise tax added to the price of a pack of cigarettes, smoking cessation experts at UMass Medical School say it’s only a matter of time before the number of smokers drops.
“Data compiled by the Partnership for Tobacco-free Kids, the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network and others confirm that raising taxes has been the most successful public health initiative to lower smoking rates—and the one that takes the most effort,” said Tina Grosowsky, project coordinator for the Central Massachusetts Tobacco-free Community Partnership. The partnership, which engages entire communities to address tobacco policy issues, was instrumental in getting the tax hike legislation passed.
“Our public health message was that 27,000 youth would not have a lifetime addiction to tobacco if the tax was put in place—not focusing on the increase in revenue for the transportation bill,” said Grosowsky about the partnership’s extensive advocacy and mobilization efforts on behalf of the tax increase.
Tobacco cessation counselor Gregory Seward, director of the UMass Tobacco Consultation Service, has seen first-hand that rising cigarette prices do indeed motivate individual smokers to quit. “A patient just told me he wants to quit not for health reasons, but because of the tax increase,” Seward said. In counseling, he encourages quitters to put the money they save on cigarettes toward more meaningful and rewarding ends.
“I try to help people focus on positive things early in the quitting process. If they’re quitting for financial reasons, at the end of a week, instead of spending $70 on tobacco, treat yourself!” He cited the case of a woman who, two months into quitting, came in “with a new hairdo, nails done, and a beaming smile.”
The Tobacco-Free Partnership is already anticipating another significant tobacco policy reform initiative. “Banning sales of all tobacco products in pharmacies statewide is our next goal,” said Grosowsky.