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How Obama’s tobacco tax would drive down smoking rates

President Obama’s proposal to nearly double the federal tobacco tax would help fund a universal pre-K program. And, if history is any guide, it would likely have a marked impact on driving down the country’s smoking rates.

“Increasing the price of tobacco is the single most effective way to discourage kids from smoking,” CDC director Tom Frieden told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “We estimate this would result in at least 230,000 fewer kids smoking than would have smoked if the tobacco tax does not go into effect.”

Researchers have conducted over 100 studies that have “clearly and consistently demonstrated that higher cigarette and other tobacco product prices reduce tobacco use,” Frank Chaloupka, a professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, writes. While tobacco is an addictive substance, demand tends to be surprisingly elastic: Price increases have reliably shown to decrease cigarette purchases.

The Congressional Budget Office recently looked at what would happen if the country implemented a 50-cent per pack tax on cigarettes. It estimates, given the research we have on tobacco taxes, that the price increase would lead to 1.4 million fewer smokers by 2021.

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