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A Missed Opportunity for the Health of New Mexico

If you could do something about the number one cause of preventable death in New Mexico and generate $90 million dollars would you take action? Unfortunately, the New Mexico House of Representatives chose not to take action on a bill that would prevent premature deaths in our state from commercial tobacco use. It is proven, increases in cigarette prices lead to substantial reductions in cigarette smoking.

That’s why the American Heart Association and our tobacco coalition partners stood in strong support of Representative Liz  Thompson’s bill, House Bill 232, which would increase the tax on cigarettes by $1.50 and place and equivalent tax on other tobacco products.  Unfortunately House Bill 232 was not heard in the 2018 Legislative session by the House of Representatives. Check out this article by Dr. Barbara McAneny, president of the American Medical Association, about why this was a missed opportunity for the health of New Mexico.

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Article originally printed in the Santa Fe New Mexican on February 17,2018:

It is beyond comprehension that our Legislature has shut down a bill that would save New Mexican lives, but the bill to raise tobacco taxes again was gathering dust as the 2018 Legislature ended.

When I tell you that this bill would have saved 6,900 lives and raised $42 million in new annual revenue, does this inaction make sense? How about the fact that New Mexico just missed the chance to save $518 million in long-term health care costs?

While Big Tobacco is forced to tell the truth about its deadly products on TV and in major newspapers across the nation, the House of Representatives declined to discuss the bill to raise the cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack and impose an equivalent tax on other tobacco products including cigars, smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes. It doesn’t make sense to pass on the opportunity to save lives and hard-earned tax dollars.

As a physician, I see firsthand the ills of tobacco. Tobacco contributes to a third of the cancer diagnoses we see, and those cancers often are the hardest to treat. Watching patients I have come to love die struggling to breathe is painful. My heart breaks when they ask me if they would have gotten this cancer if they had not smoked, and I have to tell them that probably they would not have.

Our lawmakers needed to take corrective action to reduce tobacco use and Medicaid expenses. Keep in mind that even if you are not a person who smokes, your taxes pay for some of those expenses. Significantly raising the price of cigarettes drives down usage. After Texas and Iowa increased their cigarette taxes by $1, the number of calls to the state quit lines was significantly higher compared to the prior year. Imagine what $1.50 per pack would have done for New Mexico.

While we support devoting at least some of the revenue from tobacco tax increases to tobacco prevention and cessation programs, a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax increase would have had a huge impact on its own in reducing smoking, especially among kids. There are 40,000 New Mexican children alive today who will die prematurely from smoking if nothing changes. Tobacco taxes save lives, improve health and reduce health care spending. Regardless of where the revenue goes, the human cost of tobacco is too high to do nothing.

With the case so clear in favor of raising the tobacco tax, who could possibly be opposed? Not surprisingly, the tobacco companies oppose the bill because they know the result will be fewer customers for their deadly and addictive products. They want to preserve the pipeline of kids the industry needs to survive.

But 81 percent of likely voters support a $1.50-per-pack increase in the state cigarette tax, with the revenue dedicated to increasing funding for health programs and early childhood education, according to a 2015 poll.

It is critical that next year we see a meaningful tobacco tax increase come out of the Roundhouse. New Mexico must take corrective action to slow the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the state. It’s an easy call to make when so many lives are at stake.

Barbara McAneny is an oncologist at the New Mexico Cancer Center. She president-elect of the American Medical Association.

*Link to original article: http://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/my_view/increase-tobacco-tax-in/article_e2a4beeb-6a53-5f23-9a9e-02c7b8576e4c.html 

 

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