A proposal to raise Guam's tax on tobacco products is a sensible public health intervention that could help save lives.
Speaker Benjamin Cruz recently introduced legislation that would raise the tax on all tobacco products. Bill 199-34 proposes to increase the tax rate from $3 to $4 per cigarette pack, 44 to 58 cents per each standard cigar, and $40 to $53 per pound of all other tobacco products. Cruz plans to submit the proposal to voters for approval in the 2018 general election.
If Cruz's measure becomes law, Guam would have the fourth-highest cigarette tax rate in the 50 states and territories. As of Sept. 1, Puerto Rico has the highest tax rate at $5.10 per pack, New York has the second highest at $4.35; and Rhode Island has the third highest at $4.25, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a nonprofit organization.
A higher tax would help reduce smoking, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls the leading cause of preventable death. Many adult smokers want to break their habit, according to the CDC. Cigarette consumption is price-sensitive so a higher cost through an increased tax could be the final push to help those adults who are on the verge of quitting.
Just as important, a higher tax would help prevent smoking among young people. This effect is important because the CDC says thousands of young people start smoking cigarettes every day.
By reducing smoking overall, the tax hike also would help decrease the number of children and adults harmed by secondhand smoke. The only way to completely shield nonsmokers from secondhand smoke is to get rid of smoking in homes, workplaces and public areas, the CDC says.
For those already addicted to tobacco, the tax would help them through programs and services. It raises money for local tobacco prevention and control programs, as well as other health initiatives.
Some argue that sin taxes, including the one for cigarettes, unfairly target the poor. But the blame lies with the rich tobacco industry that peddles its harmful products to vulnerable groups. They include low-income households and young people.
We are not trying to shame those who are addicted to tobacco. We understand that it can be difficult to overcome a long-standing addiction.
We are saying that if the tax hike can give a good nudge to those trying to kick a bad habit, then it is worth pursuing for their sake and for our community's.