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Cigarette Taxes 'Disproportionately Burden' the Poor, Report Says

MONDAY, Sept. 17 (HealthDay News) -- New research finds that high cigarette taxes take a heavy toll on low-income smokers, compared to those who are wealthier.

In a study, researchers at RTI International found that poor smokers in New York state -- which has the country's highest state cigarette tax at $4.35 a pack -- spent about 25 percent of their household income on cigarettes. Nationally, the average spending was about 14 percent.

By contrast, the richest smokers nationwide and in New York spent about 2 percent of their household income on cigarettes.

"Excise taxes are effective in changing smokers' behavior," study author Matthew Farrelly, chief scientist and senior director of RTI's public health policy research program, said in an RTI statement. "But not all smokers are able to quit, and low-income smokers are disproportionately burdened by these taxes."

Despite the high taxes in New York state, the study found that the percentage of people with incomes under $25,000 who smoked didn't decline from 2003-2004 to 2009-2010.

"Special efforts are needed to reduce smoking among those with low incomes," Farrelly said. "States, especially New York, generate significant revenue from cigarette taxes, but only a small percentage of that money is used for tobacco control programs. It seems only fair that states with high cigarette taxes should adequately fund cessation interventions for low-income smokers who shoulder a disproportionate share of cigarette taxes."

The researchers relied on surveys of more than 13,000 people.

The study, funded by New York State Health Department, appeared Sept. 12 in the journal PLoS One.

More information

For more about smoking, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: RTI International, press release, Sept. 13, 2012

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