New law will increase federal tobacco tax
Major changes are afoot with regard to federal tobacco policy. The new Congress and the Obama administration have sent early signs of their willingness to take a hard look at the industry that manufactures the leading cause of preventable death in the nation.
On February 4th, President Obama signed into law the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 (CHIRPA) (H.R. 2) that will increase cigarette taxes by 61 cents, to $1 a pack and raise taxes on other tobacco products. The revenue will fund the reauthorization and expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), the federal program that provides matching funds to states to provide health insurance to modest income families that do not qualify for Medicaid. The change is projected to raise $35 billion over five years.
Supporters point out that in addition to raising funds for children's health care, the increase in tobacco tax will also help drive down smoking rates, especially affecting young people who may find it too expensive to lightup in the first place. According to estimates by Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the tobacco tax increase could prevent nearly two million kids from ever starting to smoke, induce about one million adult smokers to quit, prevent nearly 900,000 smoking-caused deaths and produce $44 billion in long-term health care savings by reducing tobacco-caused health care costs.
A second anti-tobacco bill likely to be a priority for the 111th Congress is the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, a holdover from the previous session of Congress. The bill, which would grant the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate tobacco products, was passed by the House of Representatives in July 2008 by a vote of 326 - 102, but was not voted on by the Senate.
Another telling move by the administration is the appointment of anti-tobacco activist William V. Corr to the post of Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Corr served as the executive director of the nonprofit, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, a prominent leader in the fight to reduce tobacco use. Corr will be positioned to play a major role in shaping health care reform, working with HHS Secretary of HHS.
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