As part of an effort to curb tobacco use in New Mexico, especially among high school students who are increasingly using e-cigarettes, several lawmakers expressed support Thursday for increasing taxes on all tobacco products.

The push to raise the price on cigarettes and other tobacco products came after representatives from the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network delivered a long list of bleak statistics about the toll tobacco use is taking on New Mexicans.

“I think you’ve made a very compelling argument today that we need to do this and do it in a fairly hefty manner,” state Sen. Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, said during a meeting of the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee.

“Otherwise, we are condemning the kids to very poor health,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s any connection between smoking and other illicit drugs — some people say that there is — but we do need to save them from themselves, kind of like parents, while you still can.”

In New Mexico, about 1 in 3 high school students uses electronic cigarettes, also known as vaping, up from about 1 in 4 in 2015.

“New Mexico is ranked third highest in high school student use of e-cigarettes [behind West Virginia and North Carolina] among 44 states that took part in the survey,” said Mahesh Sita, government relations director for the American Heart Association. He was referring to an annual youth risk behavior survey.

Nationally, New Mexico is ranked fifth highest in youth smoking rates. Nearly 9 percent of high school students smoke cigarettes, according to data from the New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey, the state Department of Health, and the Public Education Department included in the presentation. Among adults, nearly 1 in 5 smokes cigarettes.

Sita called the cost to health care “enormous.”

“We spend almost $815 million annually on tobacco-related illnesses and care, and Medicaid alone is like almost $223 million,” he said, adding each household in New Mexico pays $937 to cover smoking-caused government costs.

Linda Siegle, government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said increasing taxes on tobacco products would go a long way in addressing the problem.

“The single most direct and reliable method of reducing consumption of tobacco products is raising taxes, making it more difficult to purchase tobacco products,” she said. “Even though we have cessation programs and prevention programs, we know that the cost of a pack of cigarettes, the cost of an e-cigarette, is the way to get people to stop smoking or vaping.”

Unfortunately, Siegle said, increasing tax rates on tobacco products doesn’t happen very often. A “significant increase” went into effect in 2010 when Bill Richardson was governor. The tax rate on a pack of cigarettes nearly doubled from 91 cents to $1.60, she said. That was followed by an increase to $2 a pack in 2019.

“Though that reduces consumption, which is what our advocacy groups want, it also increases revenue,” she said. “Revenue has never gone down; it’s only gone up even when we have raised the price and reduced the number of packs of cigarettes.”

During the 60-day legislative session at the beginning of the year, a bill that would have added $2 to the price of a pack of cigarettes stalled in a Senate committee. The proposed legislation also would have increased the excise tax for other tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco, e-liquids and closed system cartridges for e-cigarettes.

Though no specific proposals were offered at Thursday’s legislative committee meeting, several lawmakers said they would support legislation to increase tobacco taxes.

“We have to be aggressive, and I really, really hope that the governor sees this as a priority and that this bill can be put forth,” said Roger Montoya, D-Española. “I mean, why couldn’t New Mexico lead the nation in how much we tax and just kind of turn heads and throw spaghetti at the wall.”

Nora Meyers Sackett, press secretary for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, wrote in an email it would be premature to comment on potential legislation, but the administration will, as always, review and evaluate proposals as they go through the legislative process.

“The governor has long recognized the public health impact of vaping and tobacco use on New Mexicans, which is why she has spearheaded and signed multiple initiatives into law regulating vaping and tobacco,” Sackett wrote. “Last year she successfully pushed for the passage of the Tobacco Products Act, prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21 and establishing a regulatory system for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.”

Sackett also noted the governor signed into law a prohibition on vaping in indoor public spaces, as well as a new tax on vaping products, in her first legislative session in office.

State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, called the state’s tobacco-related statistics “horrifying.” She said she lives close to a middle and high school and witnesses tobacco use among youth firsthand.

“They can’t wait to get out of school before they’re pulling their e-things out,” she said. “You can tell it’s habitual. It’s a habit. It’s an addiction now. They can hardly wait.”

Roybal Caballero said her mother started smoking at 13 and died from medical problems associated with smoking.

“Even though she stopped [smoking], it was much too late for her,” she said. “And it was all due to the allure, the attraction. I mean, who as a 13-year-old starts doing anything if not because they’re being drawn into it?”

Roybal Caballero said legislators have a responsibility to take action. The negative effects of smoking are now well known and documented, unlike 60 or 70 years ago, she added.

“We now know what the deadly effects are on our health care. It causes deaths; lives are lost,” she said. “We don’t have to test it anymore, and so based on that, we would be irresponsible if we did not address this as an entity, so I would strongly push that we do.”

In addition to requesting an increase on all tobacco taxes, Sita and Siegle asked lawmakers to amend the Tobacco Control Act to include synthetic nicotine and tax it at comparable rates, as well as restore funding for prevention and cessation programs.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

(22) comments

Khal Spencer

Seems an increase in the tax will just drive more people to buy cancer sticks at the reservations, which are independent of charging the state tax. And given the number of reservation shops, that option ain't a tough one.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5415263/

As usual, our politicians are not thinking this through. One has to convince people of the hazards of smoking rather than the benefits of driving to the nearest reservation shop.

Richard Irell

A while back I researched how the cigarette tax worked in NM.

The tribes tax tobacco and keep the proceeds. The last time the state raised the tax, at least some of the tribes raised theirs as well, keeping their taxes at about 75% of the states.

I expect we will see a similar increase if the state does in fact raise their taxes.

Keep in mind that tobacco use is a more serious problem in low socioeconomic-economic communities, so if the tribal governments truly care about their people, we should expect them to have that incentive.

Joseph Tafoya

I object to them heavily taxing something “they” deem to be objectionable. If they can do this with cigarettes they can certainly do it to anything else “they” find objectionable.

Richard Irell

It is not they. It is we, as in we the people who elect the government officials.

So called sin taxes are nothing new, we have them on alcohol as well as tobacco and will soon have them on marijuana.

Richard Irell

It used to be that smoking was cool and sophisticated.

Now it is the opposite. The higher ones education, the greater ones income, etc., the less likely one is to smoke.

Anti-smoking campaigns should emphasize that.

Mike Johnson

You gotta love politicians. They just passed a smoking dope bill, and fretted about not making the tax too high to encourage the black market and increase usage by people, and now this. When I lived in Norway in the 1990s, a pack of cigarettes was $8, $7 of that was tax, today it is $15/pack (again most all tax), and yet the % of Norwegians who smoke has increased 15% over that period. But of course with left wing politicians we know this is not about anything except more tax money for them to waste. The left wing can never have enough tax money.

Richard Irell

Boy, you never tire of being wrong. It is quite easy to fact check things these days so there is no excuse for what you are doing.

The second link shows that smoking declined 2.4% in Norway between 1980 and 2o12

https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/NOR/norway/smoking-rate-statistics

https://www.washington.edu/news/2014/01/08/despite-declines-in-smoking-rates-number-of-smokers-and-cigarettes-rises/

John Cook

Thanks for the facts, Richard. Right-wingers just make stuff up and then whine, whine, whine. Mostly about government helping ordinary people instead of corporations and the rich.

Richard Irell

The drop in tobacco use in Norway would probably have been higher if not for immigration from countries such as Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and Vietnam were smoking is much more prevalent than in western nations

Mike Johnson

My friends in Norway, who gave me that figure, say they were talking about all tobacco use, including snus, which has increased markedly over the last few decades, especially among women.

Richard Irell

Suns use has increased due to a ban on most public smoking.

But I can find no evidence to support an increase in tobacco use of 15%

William Craig

“A ‘significant increase’ went into effect in 2010 when Bill Richardson was governor. The tax rate on a pack of cigarettes nearly doubled from 91 cents to $1.60 . . .

‘I mean, why couldn’t New Mexico lead the nation in how much we tax and just kind of turn heads and throw spaghetti at the wall[?]’ ”

Because Indian tribes can sell tax-free cigarettes á la the Santo Domingo Pueblo convenience store at I-25 exit 259 — it’s quite easy for smokers to avoid the exorbitant tax, which hurts non-Indian store-owners.

Of course Richardson always found more ways to gouge taxpayers.

Richard Irell

The tribes do tax tobacco, albeit at a lower rate than the state.

Julie Gonzales

Instead of raising the taxes on tobacco, because it has proven that taxing has not decreased usage. Apparently, someone is buying the product for these high school children. How about going after the people buying the product for them. By the way, how about alcohol??? Why not raise taxes there. Kids die due to alcohol poisoning not to say many people die in auto accidents due to drunk drivers. Why is the only focus always on cigarette smokers? By the way, I have never smoked and don't plan to. Wow, now we will bring in recreational Marijuana. I guess that is acceptable. I agree with the prior comment. Where is the increase in revenue going? It appears to me that it is just a means to increase revenue for the state. I don't get it.

Richard Irell

Not true.

From:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3228562/

The majority of studies (67) focused on the impact of increased price on youth. In comparison, 19 studies were identified for young adults, 25 for persons with low socio-economic status, three for persons with a dual diagnosis, one for heavy and/or long-term smokers and two for Aboriginal people (7 studies examined both youth and young adults, 1 both youth and low SES, for a total of 108 discrete studies).

There was strong evidence that raising cigarette prices through increased taxes is a more effective tobacco control policy measure for reducing smoking behavior among youth, young adults, and persons of low socioeconomic status, compared to the general population. In contrast, there was a lack of evidence about the impact of price on smoking behavior in persons with a dual diagnosis, heavy and/or long-term smokers, and Aboriginal people.

Ernest Green

Insightful, thank you for dropping this here.

John Cook

If you read the article, you will get it. The object of the tax increase is to make it prohibitively expensive to use the product.

Richard Reinders

Look to see where the tax goes, when the Surgeon General initially went on a campaign to end cigarette smoking he almost collapsed the Medicare system when a high number of smokers quit. The tax was helping pay for Medicare and instead of smokers dying early and not being as much of a burden to the Medicare system were living longer and costing Medicare more. Just like getting rid of fossil fuel production in NM it has consequences.

Richard Irell

The first Surgeon General’s report on smoking was issued in 1964.

The Medicare program started in 1965.

Richard Reinders

It was when they started to do the warning on TV and they started a campaign against smoking.

Richard Irell

Warning labels went on in 1966.

Richard Reinders

BTW I don’t disagree with the article

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Santafenewmexican.com. Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.