Pennsylvania smoking cessation programs at risk in propose budget
HARRISBURG — Julie Vojtash started smoking when she was 12, and she's on the way to kicking the habit.
Vojtash, 18, of Brookline is enrolled in a smoking cessation program at Magee-Womens Hospital. With the help of a nicotine patch, she hasn't smoked a cigarette in a month.
"I didn't want to quit until I joined the program," she said.
Such smoking cessation and prevention programs are in jeopardy because of a 50 percent cut proposed in a state budget agreement. The proposal would raise the state tax on cigarettes by 25 cents a pack, but keep Pennsylvania as the only state that doesn't levy an excise tax on smokeless and chewing tobacco, and one of two states that doesn't impose a special state tax on cigars.
To Brian Primack, an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Medicine, the state's policy on tobacco taxes and health care is worthy of satire and a spot on the Web-based newspaper spoof, "The Onion."
"Pennsylvania doesn't tax chewing tobacco, but it taxes zoos and the Children's Museum• It's a joke," said Primack, who is vice president of the Greater Pittsburgh Unit of the American Cancer Society.
The proposed 2009-10 budget agreement would impose the 6 percent sales tax on theater, dance, music and museums admissions; the tax is 7 percent in Allegheny County. The agreement would cut smoking cessation and prevention programs from $32 million to $16 million. Cigars and snuff, targeted for a state excise tax under Gov. Ed Rendell's February budget, escaped any new tax.
The $16 million taken from tobacco cessation programs will go to the state's General Fund to help balance the budget.
"I'm not sure who this benefits, except big tobacco," Primack said.
Lawmakers for decades were loathe to tax other products because tobacco is grown in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and several cigar manufacturers and large retailers are housed here.
"We do have a cigar-friendly Legislature," said Stephanie Land, a University of Pittsburgh researcher who serves as secretary of the Greater Pittsburgh Unit of the American Cancer Society.
Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Senate Republicans, said the proposed increase on cigarettes and a new tax proposed on "little cigars," cigarettes made with cigar or pipe tobacco, will help reduce consumption.
"Data available from previous years indicates that increasing the tax on cigarettes reduces overall cigarette use," he said.
Lauren Patrick and her husband, David, own the small John Hay Cigar company near Coatsville in Chester County. She said their business is reeling from a new federal tax that went into effect April 1 and increased the cost of cigars 30 cents to 40 cents per cigar.
"The idea of another tax on top of it would probably put us out of business," she said.
Anti-tobacco groups say the proposed cut in smoking cessation programs is unsound public policy.
Frank Leone, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine who runs a stop-smoking clinic, said cutting back on cessation programs will mean that fewer people quit — and that leads to higher health care costs.
Said Leone: "I feel like legislators are throwing smokers under the bus."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- New Castle man gets prison for rape of girl seen on flea market tablet computer
- Bigger version of Dutch artist’s giant rubber duck coming to Philadelphia
- Pope to join gallery of murals in Philadelphia
- Nonprofits in Pa. barely break even, survey finds
- Pa. business sector tells GOP committee of worries about minimum wage, taxes, pensions
- Man claiming 1988 abuse by Sandusky seeks way into court
- Greene County woman found dead in burning home