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Health groups support Gov. Kasich’s plan to hike tobacco taxes
Supporters say even most low-income people are nonsmokers, and cessation programs would help others quit

Andy Chow
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Opponents and supporters are clashing over a proposed tax hike to a pack of cigarettes. As Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports, the provision will most likely be a focal point in the debate over the governor’s budget.
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A group of health professionals from around Ohio gathered in the Statehouse Thursday to lend their support for Gov. John Kasich’s budget update, which includes more money to help people quit smoking and an increase to the cigarette tax.

“There’s too much tobacco in Ohio," says Dr. Craig Thiele with CareSource, a managed care company. "Almost 2 million Ohioans smoke. On average 343 packs of cigarettes are sold per smoker per year in Ohio. And we start young.”

Thiel says Kasich’s proposal to add 60 cents in taxes per pack is an effective way to stop people from smoking.

“I think it will have an impact. Research supports that. It also supports that it’ll help people quit and it’ll help people not start.”

Hurting poor people?
Opponents to the plan have said an increase to cigarettes puts a clear burden on low-income Ohioans. Phil Cole doesn’t see it that way. He’s executive director of the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, a group that fighst poverty.

While Cole acknowledges that the majority of smokers have lower incomes, he says majority of poor Ohioans are not smokers.

“It may hit them disproportionately greater as a group since a higher percentage of low-income people smoke than other income brackets. But ... iy’s still a choice for every individual and it’s still a minority within that group.”

Cole says the habit is already unaffordable regardless of the proposed tax increase. He adds that advocates should stop assuming that low-income Ohioans are helpless on this issue.

Smoking cessation
“People of lower incomes have the ability to make the decision to stop smoking. Just like people of higher incomes can make that decision. Do not sell people short because they have less money than you. If this tax proposal is an incentive to help people quit, then it’s a good thing for them and it’s a good thing for Ohio.”

Other opponents of Kasich’s plan say the increase should have been even higher than 60 cents a pack. Micah Berman, a health professor at Ohio State University, agreed that a higher tax would get even more people to quit, but supports the governor's plan.

“A higher tax is always going to have a greater impact," he acknowledged. "But again, we’re here to support this proposal and express our opinion that this tax will -- as proposed -- have a significant health impact.”

The doctors also touched on the provisions in the governor’s budget that would allocate nearly $27 million to the Ohio Department of Health in order to implement a five-year plan for tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
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