To the Contrary

Inaction on cigarette tax will cause many to suffer

As a reader who echoes The Herald's concerns expressed in the Sunday editorial "A pathetic session," I want to specifically express my deep concern that, due to lack of political will on the part of our state government's legislative and executive branch leaders over the past five months, South Carolina's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax is going to remain unchanged for at least another year.

Furthermore, I want to let our area citizens know some disturbing news that we South Carolinians can expect to continue to have to bear between now and January 2008 as a direct result of our state's cigarette tax remaining at 7 cents per pack, a level at which it has remained for 30 years.

I wrote a letter to The Herald two months ago, and at that time I encouraged our area's voters to tell their local legislative delegations that state government was long overdue in raising our cigarette tax. Why? Because of cigarette smoking's out-of-control costs to our society (especially non-smoking taxpayers), to our public health status, and to the business economics of health care in South Carolina (especially Medicaid expenses for illnesses that are directly smoking-induced). I also stated that if one considers what effect inflation has had on your and my purchasing power since 1977, our current state cigarette tax should now be at least 17 cents a pack.

Well, the good news is that many concerned eligible voters responded by calling our local delegation members over the past two months. Both state Rep. Gary Simrill and state Sen. Wes Hayes told me that they heard your voices and, indeed, both men made notable efforts to finally raise the cigarette tax by at least 30 cents, if not 45 cents, this year.

However, the sad news is inescapable: By not taking any action on significantly raising the cigarette tax, state lawmakers must realize that over the next seven months (until the Legislature reconvenes in January), more than 800 low birthweight babies will be born to smoking South Carolina mothers, more than 400 underage youth will become regular smokers, and more than 3,000 high schoolers will not be induced to quit by a significant increase in a pack of cigarettes in our state.

To bring the above numbers closer to home, in the year 2005, Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill recorded 410 babies born to mothers who reported smoking during that particular pregnancy (out of 2,209 live births at Piedmont Medical Center). More than one of every six mothers!

I say, significantly raise our state's cigarette tax (which really should be seen as a user fee), then use those new funds to actively support public and private programs that strive harder and smarter toward the common-sense goal of eliminating smoking among underage teens and under-informed young adults. Finally, waste no time in broadening smoking cessation programs for all women of childbearing age who continue to choose to smoke during pregnancy -- for the sake of all those yet-unborn South Carolina babies who are not going to realize their full potential in life because their mother chose to smoke cigarettes before and after their birth.