New York Smokers Spend 25% of Income On Cigarettes

By Amir Khan on September 20, 2012 2:25 PM EDT

Smoking
Instead of cutting back on smoking because of the high prices, smokers are still shelling out the cash -- some spending up to 25 percent of their income on cigarettes. (Photo: Reuters)

Are cigarette taxes working? According to a new study by RTI's Public Health Policy Research Program, published in the journal PLoS ONE, they're not. Researchers found that instead of cutting back on smoking because of the high prices, smokers are still shelling out the cash -- some spending up to 25 percent of their income on cigarettes.

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"Although high cigarette taxes are an effective method for reducing cigarette smoking, they can impose a significant financial burden on low-income smokers," the researchers, led by Matthew Farrelly with RTI, wrote in the study.

New York City has the highest taxes on cigarettes, with packs costing as much as $12 each. And while many people have switched to rolling their own or buying online, poorer New Yorkers are spending far too much and not getting anything in return, researchers said.

"The poor pay $600 million in cigarette taxes and get little help in quitting," Russ Sciandra, a researcher with the American Cancer Society, told CBS News.

Smokers that earn less than $30,000 per year pay 39 percent of state and city taxes on cigarettes, according to the study. And while some of that money goes to fund smoking cessation programs, researchers noted that low-income smokers have a harder time quitting because they cannot afford many of the smoking cessation aids.

Smoking kills over 400,000 people a year, about 1,200 daily, and the earlier smokers start the more likely they are to die from smoking-related diseases. More than 80 percent of smokers start before age 18 and 99 percent start by age 26.

Smoking can cause a myriad of health problems including stroke, heart disease, chronic lung problems, and various cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking costs the United States $96 billion in medical costs and $97 billion in lost productivity every year.

Audrey Silk , representative of the national smokers' rights organization  CLASH, who was not involved in the study, told CBS News that the study proves tobacco taxes are punitive to smokers and do not benefit anyone.

"It busts their theory that high taxes equal submission to their coercive measure at the same time," she said. "Ulterior motives abound ... to generate bad news as reason to tighten the screws and fish for more funding to do it with. They enrich themselves at the expense of those they helped stigmatize."  

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