It is no secret Louisiana flounders in nearly all national health rankings. Obesity and tobacco use represent just two of our major pitfalls and largest strains on the state’s health care system.
Yet, in 2015 we managed to make strides with the latter issue. New Orleans enacted an ordinance making all public buildings, including bars and casinos, completely smoke-free, while our flagship university, Louisiana State University, became a 100 percent tobacco-free campus. To top it all off, our Legislature voted to raise the tobacco tax 50 cents from 36 cents to 86 cents. Unfortunately, the work is far from finished in our beloved Pelican State.
As the leading cause of preventable death, tobacco use often begins young, with nearly 90 percent of daily smokers having started before the age of 18. And with only 53 of 70 Louisiana school districts 100 percent tobacco-free, our state’s youth are highly susceptible to developing this deadly habit.
Therefore, it is imperative we take every opportunity to discourage their use now. While the increase of the cigarette tax to 86 cents was substantial enough to take us from the bottom of the national rankings up to 36th place, Louisiana’s current tobacco tax is still only half the national average ($1.61) and ultimately not a large enough deterrent for adolescents. Thus, a higher tobacco tax is by far the best solution to youth tobacco abuse.
In adulthood, tobacco-use leads to considerable losses in productivity, medical costs and an estimated 14 million resulting medical conditions that invariably lead to death prematurely. Various health resources report youth tobacco abuse is realized in adulthood with annual medical expenses and productivity losses approaching $200 billion nationwide. In other words, it costs taxpayers $20 per pack to offset the negative outcomes incurred from smokers in Louisiana that pay $1.87 per pack in state and federal tobacco taxes. A significant tobacco tax increase would help offset these costs associated with habitual tobacco use in adults.
The facts are the facts. Louisiana is a prime example of the negative impact tobacco use has on our citizens, both young and old, and on our health care system. A substantial increase in Louisiana’s tobacco tax will help ease the burden tobacco has on our state currently and considerably lessen its impact in the future.