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Commentary: Solution to Florida budget crisis simple: tax tobacco

With the looming financial news we receive every day, there has been a never-ending search for alternative sources of revenue to make up for budget cuts.

In Florida, our government is facing a whopping $2.6 billion budget deficit.

To make up for the losses, Florida lawmakers are looking to cut funding for schools, affordable housing programs, teacher bonuses and increase traffic fines.

While looking at these alternatives, there is still one that has not been given enough thought: increasing tobacco taxes.

Increasing tobacco taxes in Florida would generate the much-needed revenue to help Floridians cope with budget shortfalls. Florida is ranked 46th in the nation in terms of tobacco taxes. (The No.1 spot is currently taken by New York). So generating more revenue from tobacco seems like a simple solution, right? Well,
according to our legislature, not so much.

Opponents of this idea say increasing tobacco taxes would disproportionately affect low-income populations, as well as decrease jobs for Floridians working for tobacco companies.

But low income and youth populations benefit the most from raising tobacco taxes. Higher taxes work to encourage more low-income smokers to quit.

And while low-income adults are more likely to smoke, studies show they also are more likely to quit or cut back on smoking when they have to pay more for cigarettes.

In fact, increasing tobacco taxes will help the entire state dramatically.

The increase could easily make up the budget deficit, and it would decrease the amount of smokers in Florida, which decreases the health care costs of tobacco-related diseases.

Florida currently spends $4.1 billion on health care costs related to tobacco use. Increasing the taxes would decrease that cost for taxpayers.

Research has shown that every 10 percent increase in cigarette prices reduces youth smoking by about 7 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent.

In the end, we have to ask ourselves this question: Which is more risky: continuing to bear the burden tobacco has on our economy or making sure people aren’t offended by raising taxes?

Tobacco does more harm than good in more ways than one, and increasing tobacco taxes would help Florida climb out of the budget hole it is currently in.

It’s really that simple.

An increase in taxes equals an increase in state revenue, which leads to a decrease in state deficit.

Really, what else is there to discuss?

E-mail Enjoli Jones at [email protected].

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