The first sentence of a study conducted by Mississippi State University sums it up in a nutshell: Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. That information is the motivation behind a push by some lawmakers and a coalition of health organizations to increase the state's tax on cigarettes.
Of the 1,000 people polled by Mississippi State University, 60 percent of smokers say a cigarette tax increase is needed. The poll also concluded that nearly 5,000 Mississippians die each year from tobacco illnesses.
"This report is going to be very useful to me and my colleagues in the next legislative session," Senator Deborah Dawkins said.
In this year's past session, Senator Dawkins pushed for a bill banning smoking in public buildings and restaurants.
She says her colleagues told her it was a bad idea because this is an election year. But Dawkins' crusade is personal. She watched her chain smoking father die of lung cancer, and she says she's not going to let political pressure stop her from trying to help other people.
"They told me the same thing with a tax increase. 'Don't ever introduce a tax increase in an election year.' But as I said, I didn't look on this as a tax increase. I looked on it as an adjustment."
Robert Morris with the American Cancer Society says Mississippi's cigarette tax falls far short of the national average of 70 cents per pack.
"At 18 cents per pack, our cigarette tax is one of the lowest in the country. We have not dealt with ours since 1985," Morris said.
The report predicts getting people to kick the habit will save on the cost of treating smoking related illnesses.
"Young people and pregnant mothers have shown to be the two groups of people that will quit or choose not to start smoking as a result of a higher excise tax and those health care savings add up to about 365 million dollars over the first five years," Sean Courtney said.
Supporters of a higher cigarette tax say the numbers should fire up lawmakers to make smoking a much more expensive habit.
Here are a few more findings from the report:
- Raising the cigarette tax by 50-cents would generate more than $117 million in tax revenue.
- Nearly 7,000 children will start smoking in Mississippi this year. A third of them will one day die from a tobacco related illness.
- Each year Mississippi pays $561 million in health-care costs directly related to smoking.
- 43 states, plus the District of Columbia, have a higher cigarette tax than Mississippi.