Overwhelming Majority of Virginia Voters Favor Increasing the Cigarette Tax to the National Average
A new poll released today by a coalition of Virginia health leaders shows that 72 percent of Virginia voters support an 89 cent increase in the state tax on cigarettes. The coalition is calling on legislators to increase Virginia’s 30-cent per pack cigarette tax—still one of the lowest in the nation—to the national average of $1.19 a pack to reduce smoking among kids and generate revenue to help solve the budget crisis.
By more than a two-to-one margin (72 percent to 26 percent), Virginia voters favor an 89 cent per pack increase in the state’s cigarette tax to fund tobacco prevention and address health care needs. Support for the increase crosses party lines, garnering the support of 71 percent of Republicans, 79 percent of Democrats, and 67 percent of independents. Support is also strong across Virginia, with a majority of voters in Norfolk (75 percent), Northern Virginia (75 percent), Richmond (70 percent) and Roanoke and the rest of the state (68 percent) favoring the 89-cent increase in the cigarette tax.
In addition, the poll found that there is virtually no difference in support between an 89-cent and a 30-cent increase which has been proposed by Gov. Tim Kaine.
Support for both the 89-cent and 30-cent tax increases is broad-based, and cuts across party, regional and ideological lines. Danny McGoldrick, vice president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, noted, “From a political standpoint, it’s clearly ‘in for a penny; in for a pound.’ This is because opposition to the cigarette tax is low and essentially identical at the two levels, while the revenue and other benefits dramatically increase with the higher tax.”
The survey of 500 registered likely Virginia voters was released today by the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In releasing the poll results, the health advocates declared a large increase in the cigarette tax a win-win-win for Virginia. An increase in the state’s cigarette tax is a win for public health because it will reduce smoking, particularly among kids; it’s a win for the state’s fiscal health because it will raise more than $250 million in new annual revenue for the state; and it’s a win for lawmakers who support it because of overwhelming voter support.
“The cigarette tax is a proven strategy to protect thousands of Virginia kids from tobacco addiction while, at the same time, helping the state address budget concerns and provide vital health care services,” said Keenan Caldwell, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society. “The state Legislature should listen to the people of Virginia and increase the cigarette tax to the national average. A smaller increase will not have a measurable health impact. While a 30-cent increase will generate some new revenue, it is an enormous missed opportunity in terms of health.”
The poll found that increasing the cigarette tax is the most palatable approach to addressing Virginia’s budget woes. A majority of voters (77 percent) say they favor increasing the cigarette tax to help balance the state’s budget. Fewer than four in 10 Virginia voters support the other tax increases or spending cuts that may be necessary to balance the budget, including increasing the sales tax or income tax, or reducing funding for public safety, education and Medicaid. “This poll shows that among the options that are on the table, increasing the cigarette tax is clearly the preferred solution to the state’s revenue crisis,” said Cathleen Smith Grzesiek, director of government relations for the American Heart Association.
The poll also shows that Virginia voters will express their support for a cigarette tax increase at the voting booth. Overall, 62 percent of voters, including a majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents, are more likely to support a candidate who backs the tobacco tax proposal. Just 21 percent of voters are less likely to support a candidate who favors increasing the tobacco tax and 11 percent indicate that it would make no difference in their vote.
Tobacco-caused costs add more than $1.6 million per year to state tax bills—or more than $570 for each Virginia household. “By increasing the cigarette tax, Virginia will reduce smoking, save lives and help offset the health care costs caused by smoking,” said David DeBiasi, director of advocacy and public education for the American Lung Association in Virginia.
Virginia currently ranks 47th in the nation with a tax of 30 cents per pack, far below the national average of $1.19. Large bodies of economic research, numerous expert panels, experience in other states, and even reports from the tobacco industry have concluded decisively that price increases effectively reduce smoking, especially among youth. The U.S. Surgeon General, in his 2000 report, Reducing Tobacco Use, concluded that raising cigarette taxes is widely regarded as one of the most effective tobacco prevention strategies and that such increases would lead to “substantial long-run improvements in health.”
According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an 89-cent increase in Virginia’s cigarette tax would prevent more than 60,000 Virginia kids alive today from premature death, addiction and disease caused by tobacco use. The additional revenue from 89 cents per pack would provide the state with an immediate boost of more than $250 million in revenue in the first year alone.
The survey was conducted by Global Strategy Group. The statewide poll has a random sample of 500 registered likely Virginia voters and was conducted January 27-29, 2009. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points.