With the commonwealth currently experiencing a structural deficit of $1.8 billion, we need to focus on raising revenue for the 2016-17 budget. We cannot keep making cuts to expenditures, as these cuts have been hitting education and human services resources strongly.
One of the most effective ways to raise revenue, both from a financial perspective and a health care perspective, is to tax tobacco products such as cigars and smokeless tobacco.
Pennsylvania is the only state in the United States that does not tax smokeless tobacco, and Pennsylvania is one of two states in the nation that does not tax cigars. A tax on these two items and an increase in the cigarette tax from $1.60 to $2.60 would raise about $600 million that could help close the deficit we face.
Furthermore, taxing these items would improve the health of the population here. As of 2014, the percentage of people in Pennsylvania smoking cigarettes was 21.3 percent. The national smoking rate is 16.8 percent. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking causes more deaths per year than HIV, alcohol, drug use, firearms, and motor vehicles combined, and smoking causes 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths. Limiting the number of Pennsylvanians who smoke can drastically improve the health of our state’s population.
I enthusiastically support our legislators’ efforts to increase the tobacco taxes in the 2016-17 state budget.
The writer is an intern at the Consumer Health Coalition and a student at the University of Pittsburgh.