Designing policy interventions in the context of obesity—what we can learn from the effects of cigarette taxes on children’s health

By Diana Winters (@diana3000)
[Cross-posted at HealthLawProf Blog.]

An important new study shows that a child will most likely be healthier throughout her childhood if a tax on cigarettes is in place when her mother is pregnant. Economist David Simon (who, full disclosure, is my cousin) at the University of Connecticut has extended the findings that the health of infants can be improved by a policy intervention that improves the in-utero environment, and has provided strong evidence that cigarette taxes can improve the health of children into their teen years.

It is well established that smoking during pregnancy can harm a developing fetus. In his paper, Simon cites studies that demonstrate the negative effects of taxes on cigarette smoking, and in a second paper, he collects and reviews the literature that shows that pregnant women are responsive to cigarette taxes. Simon uses a restricted-use version of the National Health Interview Survey, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has used since 1957 to collect data on the health of the U.S. population, to examine medium-term childhood health outcomes for individuals exposed to a cigarette tax in-utero.  Continue reading

Need Revenue? Taxes that Promote Health

The Congressional Budget Office just released a comprehensive new report investigating the budgetary effects of a hypothetical increase in the federal excise tax on cigarettes and small cigars from, $1.01 to $1.51 in fiscal year 2013. The report’s level of sophistication is unprecedented in its ability to evaluate the effects this change could have. Given the federal budget’s current state of affairs, perhaps the most significant finding from the analysis is that increasing the excise tax on cigarettes could reduce federal budget deficits by a total of about $42 billion through 2021. The value of the health costs and lives saved goes without saying.

Of course, the same could be said for some other products that can be harmful to health.  Alcohol taxes also suppress consumption and reduce the harms associated with drinking, and thanks to inflation and the absence of indexing in state tax laws, they are generally now at real rates we had in the ’50s and ’60s. See Alex Wagenaar’s systematic review for more on the subject.

So, if a majority of Americans are seeing a need for revenue, why not raise it, in part, where the result will also include saved lives and saved health care costs?