If Utah's tax initiatives pass, the consumption of cigarettes and chewing tobacco could increase, especially by Utah's young people, a Utah physician warned Tuesday.
Dr. Kim A. Bateman, a family practice physician from Ephraim, said the Utah Medical Association has specifically taken a stand against Initiative B because it would roll back the tax on tobacco products to its 1986 levels."We worked for three years to get the tobacco tax increased - not for revenue reasons, but strictly for reasons of public health," he said. "We know that tobacco consumption is related to the price. If the price is increased there is less consumption, especially among young people."
"People don't realize how expensive tobacco smoking is for a non-smoker."
According to Bateman, health care costs $2.40 per each pack of cigarettes smoked. Another conservative estimate is that health insurance costs are $100 higher for every non-smoker because of smokers.
"In a family of five, that's $500 a year in extra health insurance paid to cover the disease of smokers," he said. "Taxes are at least that much higher for the same reason."
Bateman, a delegate to the American Medical Association, said most smoking-related illnesses emerge in the Medicare years. Thus a large part of the Medicare budget is spent "taking care of the damage caused by smoking."
"I think it's a conservative estimate to say that $1,000 a year per Utah family goes to pay for the cost of smoking," he emphasized. "We would have to tax cigarettes at least $2.50 a pack and then put the money into Medicare or other health care funding to even equalize that."
In 1952 the combined federal and state tax on cigarettes was 10 cents. Last year the cigarette tax was increased from 12 cents to 23 cents a pack.
Initiative B, Bateman said, would roll it back to 12 cents. "In order just to correct for inflation, we would have to raise our state tax to 38 cents a pack just to be where we were in 1952."
The Utah physician stressed that every time the tobacco tax has been increased, tobacco consumption has decreased in Utah.
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Bateman said while total consumption is down 9 percent, the per capita consumption of cigarettes by teenagers is down 15.8 percent.
"If they don't start smoking when they are kids, they likely won't start at all," Bateman said.