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Viewpoint: Support Measure 4 to keep kids from smoking

WASHINGTON--North Dakota voters have an exceptional opportunity to improve the state's health and economy by approving Measure 4 to increase the state tobacco tax by $1.76 per pack.

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WASHINGTON-North Dakota voters have an exceptional opportunity to improve the state's health and economy by approving Measure 4 to increase the state tobacco tax by $1.76 per pack.

This critical action will prevent kids from smoking, prompt smokers to quit and generate much-needed revenue for worthy causes including veterans' health care. In these hyper-partisan times, it's refreshing to have an option voters of all persuasions can support.

The need for this initiative is clear. Tobacco is the No. 1 preventable cause of death in North Dakota, killing 1,000 residents each year and sickening many more. The vast majority of these smokers started as kids.

North Dakota's smoking rates are higher than the national average; some 19.9 percent of adults and 11.7 percent of high school students smoke (compared with national rates of 15.1 percent and 10.8 percent, respectively). About 300 North Dakota kids become daily smokers each year, and more than 14,000 kids alive today in the state will die prematurely from smoking without strong action to prevent it.

By approving Measure 4, voters will protect kids and adults alike. The nation's top public health authorities-including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the surgeon general and the National Academy of Medicine-have found that increasing tobacco taxes is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking.

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At just 44 cents per pack, North Dakota's tobacco tax is the third lowest in the country and hasn't been raised since 1993. During that time, every other state has increased its tobacco tax at least once.

Nationally, every 10 percent jump in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by 6.5 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent. The higher the tax, the more lives saved. A $1.76 hike in North Dakota's tobacco tax will prevent 5,800 kids from becoming smokers, spur more than 6,000 current smokers to quit and save 3,500 North Dakota residents from premature, smoking-caused deaths.

In addition to preventing kids from ever using tobacco, cigarette tax increases prompt smokers to quit. For example, the Wisconsin Quit Line got a record 20,000 calls in the first two months after a $1 per pack increase (it typically gets 9,000 calls per year). Likewise, when Texas and Iowa each increased their cigarette taxes by $1, the number of calls to the state quit lines was much higher compared to the prior year.

Measure 4 also is a financial win for North Dakota. The state spends more than $325 million a year on health care costs directly caused by smoking, including $56.9 million spent by the state Medicaid program.

A $1.76 tobacco tax increase will save more than $245 million in future health care costs. According to state officials, this initiative is estimated to bring in more than $140 million in new revenue within the first two years to support important health-related causes, including veterans' health care services and a community health fund.

And contrary to tobacco industry claims, tobacco taxes are a reliable and predictable source of revenue. Every state that has significantly raised its tobacco tax has enjoyed substantial increases in revenue and other benefits. Put simply, after a cigarette tax increase, the revenue gains on each cigarette sold far outweigh any revenue losses from declines in total cigarette sales.

With the case so clear in favor of significant tobacco tax increases, who could possibly be opposed? Surprise, surprise: the tobacco companies, because they know the result will be fewer customers for their deadly and addictive products. That's why they're already dumped millions of dollars into the state to deceive voters and defeat Measure 4.

It's an investment in preserving the pipeline of kids the industry needs to survive.

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North Dakota voters should approve Measure 4 for the same reasons the tobacco companies oppose it-because it will prevent kids from smoking and encourage smokers to quit. That may be a bad outcome for tobacco industry profits, but it's a great outcome for North Dakota's health.

Myers is president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2016
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