Lawmakers in the Bay State recently heard testimony on proposals in both the Massachusetts House and Senate which seek to address youth nicotine addiction by increasing the state excise taxes on cigars and cigarettes. While protecting youth from all age-restricted products is laudable, Massachusetts youth are reporting record lows in cigarette and cigar use. Rather than imposing draconian taxes that will disproportionately impact lower-income persons, and stoke fears of a youth vaping epidemic that doesn’t exist, lawmakers should utilize existing tobacco monies on programs to address youth use of tobacco and vapor products.
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), use of traditional tobacco products including cigarettes and cigars are at an all-time low among Massachusetts high school students. Yet consumers (and more importantly, parents) rarely hear that good news.
According to the YRBS, in 2021, 3.5% of Massachusetts high school students reported currently using combustible cigarettes. That sounds concerning until you realize that combustible cigarette use is defined as having used the product on at least one occasion in the 30 days prior. While no one wants minors to vape, using an e-cigarette once in 30 days is hardly a habit. In fact, that rate is the lowest rate ever recorded. In 2019, 5% of Bay State high schoolers reported current cigarette use. Between 2019 and 2021, current smoking declined by 30%. Even better, smoking among Massachusetts high schoolers declined by 88.4% since 1993 when nearly one-third (30.2%) of students were currently smoking.
Daily smoking rates are also a record low. In 2021, only 0.5% of high schoolers in Massachusetts reported smoking cigarettes every day. This is a whopping 95.8% decline from 1993 when more than one in ten (11.9%) reported daily cigarette use.
While there is no data from the 2021 YRBS on cigar use, in 2019, only 5.1% of Massachusetts high schoolers reported currently using cigars. Since 1999 (the first year the YRBS asked about cigar use), current cigar use decreased by 67.3% from 15.6% of students Rather than imposing additional taxes, lawmakers should use the significant sums of money already raised from the state’s existing $3.51 excise tax on a pack of 20 cigarettes. The state should also use the money it receives annually from the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) from tobacco manufacturers. In 2021, Massachusetts collected $370.8 million in state cigarette excise taxes and another $245.6 million in MSA payments, amounting to over $616.4 million Yet, in the same year, the Bay State allocated only $5.1 million in state funding towards tobacco control programs—including prevention of youth nicotine addiction. This amounts to only 1.4% of cigarette taxes and only 2.1% of MSA payments being used to fund programs to prevent youth use and help adults quit smoking. In fact, for every $1 Massachusetts received in 2021 from tobacco monies, it allocated only $0.01 to tobacco control.
Rather than levying an additional burden on taxpayers, Bay State policymakers ought to celebrate the dramatic decline in youth tobacco use and utilize more of the existing revenue from the current tax and settlement payments and fund tobacco control programs.
Lindsey Stroud is a Visiting Fellow at Independent Women’s Forum, Director of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance’s Consumer Center, and a board member with the American Vapor Manufacturers Association.