A coalition of anti-smoking groups made a push Wednesday for higher cigarette taxes but their pitch faces a difficult sell.
The groups, which include the American Heart Association, the American Lung Society, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Cancer Society, are calling for a 95-cent increase in Connecticut’s $3.40-per pack tax.
They say the steeper tax will discourage people, especially young people, from smoking while at the same time boosting the state’s bottom line.
But the idea may not gain much traction with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. “The Governor has said from the beginning that he does not support increasing taxes,” said his spokesman, Andrew Doba. “This proposal is more of a public health issue than a revenue issue. Increasing a sin tax generally leads to a decrease in consumption, so any gains would be mitigated by more people quitting, which is obviously a positive thing.”
The public health advocates commissioned a poll showing broad public support for raising cigarette taxes. More than two-thirds of those surveyed said they back the tax hike; 27 percent oppose it. The poll, conducted by the Mellman Group from May 7-9, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
The advocates say smoking rates, particularly among young people, drop sharply when cigarette taxes are raised by at least 10 percent.
Rep. Elaine O’Brien, one of three lawmakers who attended a press conference at the Capitol, said she generally does not back raising taxes. But in this case, the public health benefits that comes with reduced rates of smoking were enough to sway the Democrat from Suffield.
“Anything we can do to cut back on … cancer deaths is a good thing, so that’s why I support…the proposal to raise the cigarette tax,” O’Brien said.
Rep. Matt Lesser, a Democrat from Middletown, also attended the press conference. He said he comes as both a member of the legislature’s appropriations committee and as the friend and family member of people who have died of smoking-related diseases.
Connie Dills, a registered respiratory therapist at Hospital for Special Care in New Britain, said she has seen firsthand the toll smoking has taken on many of her patients.
But Dills said the financial boost that higher taxes would provide should are also part of the equation. Smoking-related health-care costs amount to $1.6 billion in Connecticut each year. Advocates of the higher tax say it would generate $50 million for the state annually.
“While the health benefits associated with tax increases is the reason for our strong support, we cannot discount the very real economic benefits that will also result,” Dills said.