Rebuttals to Arguments Against Cigarette Tax Increases

Fact Sheet | August 1, 2001

Executive Summary

Regressive Tax: Opponents to I-773 say that because smoking levels are highest among people with low incomes, cigarette tax increases are regressive taxes that unfairly impact lower-income families and communities.

Research indicates that:

  • The fact that smoking rates are highest among lower-income communities means that these communities currently suffer the most from smoking and will benefit the most from any effective new measures to reduce smoking, including increased state cigarette tax rates and the fully funded Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.
  • Low-income smokers are more responsive to tobacco tax increases than higher-income smokers and are more likely to quit or cut back to avoid the higher cigarette prices. Those who stop smoking in response to cigarette tax increases experience better health and reduced health costs.
  • Low-income smokers also disproportionately benefit from the new revenues directed towards health care coverage for low-income people and the disease prevention programs specifically directed for low-income people.
  • Increases to state cigarette taxes will not place any new financial burdens of any kind on the more than 76% of Washington state adults who neither smoke cigarettes nor buy them.

Decreasing Source of Revenue:Opponents to I-773 say that resulting declines in sales create an unreliable source of income.

Research indicates that this argument has not been substantiated and ignores an extremely important achievement: if tax revenue does drop due to decreased cigarette consumption, one of the policy’s public health goals has been realized.

  • Every single state that has significantly increased its cigarette taxes has significantly increased its revenues despite the lost sales caused by the related smoking declines and despite any associated increases in cigarette smuggling or other tax-avoidance sales. The revenue losses from fewer cigarette sales were more than made up for by the increased state revenues per pack.

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