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Smoking Study Suggests Tobacco Tax Could Fund Texas Preschools

Veronica Zaragovia for KUT News

Results of a new study by Gallup suggest smoking causes U.S. employers to lose $278 billion annually. That's due to smokers missing work for smoke breaks and because of additional health care costs compared to employees who don't smoke.

The data comes a day after another study, "Raising Smart, Healthy Kids in Every State" was released. It argues states would benefit from a 94-cent tax hike on cigarettes, as proposed by President Barack Obama. 

That's because of the benefits to children from going to preschool, says Helen Blank, director of childcare and early learning at the National Women's Law Center.

"It's a very sensible idea, because if you have a good, strong early start, you're likely to be more successful in school, be more productive adults, and make more healthy choices and you may choose to not smoke," Blank says. "So [President Obama] put two good causes together – reducing smoking. This proposal would mean that 1.7 million kids alive today would not become adult smokers. And on the other end, all those children … close to 38,000 in Texas would have access to good, high-quality preschool."

Nine organizations worked on the report, including the National Women's Law Center, the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.

Caner Action Network president Chris Hansen says although Texas politicians don’t usually embrace tax increases, this hike would only affect smokers.

"I think it would be incredibly unfair for somebody to do something where they know they’re creating that kind of health risk, knowing that other people will have to pay for it," Hansen says. "I have to say if this Congress can’t pass something that makes this much sense, they can’t do anything."

President Obama proposed a federal budget plan including a tobacco tax increase, earlier this year. Blank of the National Women's Law Center says that according to the Obama administration, it would raise roughly $75 billion over 10 years to fund preschools in the U.S.

Currently, the tobacco tax is $1.01. This would bring the tax on cigarettes to $1.95.

According to the study:

  • More than 37,500 children from low and moderate-income families in Texas would enroll in preschool in the first year of the tax increase   
  • Texas would get about $308 million to expand early education from the federal government
  • Smoking costs Texas $5.83 billion in health care expenditures
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