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Curious Where Cigarette Tax Money Goes

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Smoking is one of the most dangerous and addictive things you can do, and stopping is one of toughest. That’s why getting smokers to quit, and keeping kids from ever starting, is crucial. It is important not only for them, but for everybody who pays higher health costs to care for people with smoking related illnesses.

Despite that, money for anti-smoking programs has gone down in Massachusetts, while state taxes on cigarettes bring in hundreds of millions of dollars.

Cyndy from Mansfield Declared her Curiosity

“I’m curious where the tax money on cigarettes goes?”

Mary from Centerville asked:

“How much is being used for anti-smoking programs?”

The answer is – not much.

HOW MUCH MONEY?

Massachusetts has one of the highest cigarette taxes in the country – $2.51 on every pack. Last year that meant $562 million in state revenue. The big tobacco settlement brought in another $315 million. However, out of the nearly $900 million the state took in from cigarette taxes and settlement funds, lawmakers dedicated only $4.5 million to anti-smoking programs this year.

“Right now the program is funded at less than 1% of what the state brings in in tobacco revenue,” said Russet Morrow Breslau, the head of Tobacco Free Mass, a consortium of health groups.

WHERE THE MONEY GOES

Almost all of that revenue goes into the state’s general fund. Not a penny is earmarked for anti-smoking, so the state’s Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program is funded at whatever level lawmakers decide.

The last time state cigarette taxes increased was two years ago. The tax went up by a dollar a pack. While that money did not go directly to anti-smoking efforts, it is earmarked to help pay for the state’s health insurance program.

“If you’re going to increase prices on cigarettes and tobacco products you need to use that money to help people quit smoking,” said Breslau.

A number of years ago the state did just that. For example, in 2000 Massachusetts spent $54 million on anti-smoking programs. Back then the state was a national model. But tough financial times caused the legislature to use that money for other needs.

“You can’t balance the budget on the backs of smokers,” Breslau said.

FLUCTUATING FUNDING

Funding for the state’s anti-tobacco program fluctuates. It was down to about $2 million a few years ago, and then increased bit-by-bit until it went up to nearly $13 million last year. But the recession and lowered income tax collections caused the legislature to cut $8 million to this year’s $4.5 million level.

“We are doing everything we can with our limited resources to provide them the help they need,” says Lois Keithly, PhD, the head of the state’s Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program.

FUNDING TO REBOUND?

She points out that the state’s smoking rate has come down and is hopeful that by using their reduced resources wisely they can keep the rate from going the other way. Keithly also said she hopes that funding will increase along with an improved economy.

“We’re hopeful that when the funds become more available that we will be first in line to get additional funds,” she said. “I’m not sure there’s a better investment.”

That’s a feeling shared by Breslau.

“Our hope is that incrementally we increase funding to the program over the next several years. We’re not looking for all the money that comes into the state to go to the tobacco control program.”

Breslau estimates that a $25 million budget would create a strong program, but that’s $20 million more than is being spent today.

For smokers looking to quit, there is help available from the Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program.

© MMX, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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