The American Heart Association has been leading efforts to increase Hawaii’s tobacco tax during the 2016 state legislative session. On Friday April 11th, SB 2690, SD2, HD1, died after not receiving a hearing in the House Finance Committee, its final committee assignment before it would have gone to the floor for a vote.
The AHA supported this legislation for multiple reasons. First research shows a one-time sizeable cigarette tax increase would have a greater impact on reducing the smoking rate, especially in lower income and youth markets, which are more price sensitive. Secondly, we strongly believes that a portion of the increased revenue should be earmarked to support state-funded tobacco prevention, education and cessation programs.
Additional funding is needed for these programs in order for them to counter the tobacco industry’s advertising and marketing efforts to addict a new generation of users. According to a recently released report by the Federal Trade Commission, the tobacco industry spends $9.5 billion a year to market cigarettes and smokeless tobacco which amounts to more than $25 million each day or $1 million every hour.
The AHA is part of a coalition of health organizations and individuals which recently worked on revising Hawaii’s Tobacco Use Prevention & Control In Hawaii: A Strategic Plan for the State 2016-2020. The revised plan calls for an increased focus on tobacco prevention, control and cessation in disparately-affected populations, including Native Hawaiians, lower socio-economic populations, and members of the LGBT and mental health communities. Adult smoking rates in these communities remain over 20 percent which is much higher than the state adult average of 14 percent. More funding is needed to provide focused, culturally-appropriate tobacco-control services.
Tobacco use continues to claim 1,200 lives each year in Hawaii and creates millions in annual health care costs.
SB 2690, SD2, HD1 would have increased the state tobacco tax for the first time in a decade. Half of the newly-generated tax revenue would have been allocated to the Hawaii Tobacco Prevention and Control Special Fund to address tobacco use disparities, it would have benefited all Hawaii residents, but especially those who need help in ending their addiction to the tobacco industry’s deadly products.