Despite higher cigarette taxes in the U.S., low-income smokers spend a disproportionate amount of money on cigarettes compared to wealthier smokers, according to a new study by the nonprofit research and development group Research Triangle Institute (RTI).
“Those low-income smokers are footing a lot of the bill from cigarette taxes, but not getting many benefits of programs that could help them,” said lead author Matthew Farrelly, a chief scientist at RTI. “In general taxes are very effective at keeping kids from smoking and helping adult smokers cut back, but there are still people who keep smoking because they’re so addicted.”
Researchers say the study underscores the need for more funds to be spent on programs to help poor people kick the habit.
“The poor pay $600 million in cigarette taxes and get little help in quitting,” Russ Sciandra of the American Cancer Society told the New York Times.
The study shows smokers who make under $30,000 a year spend 14 percent of their income on cigarettes each year. Those who make more than $60,000 spend 2 percent of their income on cigarettes.
In New York State, which has the highest cigarette tax in the nation, low-income smokers spend 24 percent of what they make on cigarettes. Smokers in New York pay $4.35 in state taxes per pack, and a single pack can cost as much as $12.
The new figures frustrate Audrey Silk, founder of the New York-based Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (CLASH). She said the study proves taxes are punitive, but not an effective way to help people quit smoking.
“The taxes are a coercive measure designed to force a segment of society to behave in a government- approved way, and that’s the abomination more so than smoking,” she said. “Nobody’s forcing a cigarette in anyone’s mouth, but they’re sure shoving these taxes down our throats.”