Sen. Rosalind Kurita (D-Clarksville) announced a health care initiative that she said would provide nearly $100 million to expand the health care safety net. The revenue to fund the plan would be generated by a 71-cent per pack increase in the cigarette tax.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to improve the health of Tennesseans,” Sen. Kurita said. “Not only will this plan stop young people from smoking, it will provide millions of dollars for important health care efforts that will benefit those Tennesseans most in need.”
Sen. Kurita noted that with TennCare cuts, more Tennesseans are in need of access to basic health care. She said she plans to present legislation that will utilize $100 million generated from her bill to improve access to care by adding extended hours at local health departments and providing other avenues for expanded access to care.
Sen. Kurita was joined at the announcement by Rep. Johnny Shaw, the House sponsor and by CHART – the Coalition for a Healthy and Responsible Tennessee, the Amercan Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Tennessee Medical Association, the American Lung Association, the Tennessee Public Health Association, and Smokefree Nashville.
"Raising the tobacco tax will generate state revenue, save health care funds, reduce youth smoking and prevent unnecessary deaths. It’s critically important that we take this step to guard the health of our future generations," said Jeanette Schatz, executive director of CHART, the Campaign for a Healthy and Responsible Tennessee.
“As a physician I see the tragic effects of tobacco use all too often,” said Dr. Michael McAdoo, chairman of the Tennessee Medical Association. “It’s tough to treat a patient with a terminal illness that you know is entirely preventable. The truth is that there’s only so much I can do to protect my patients from tobacco-use, which is why the Tennessee Medical Association strongly supports preventive efforts to reduce smoking like an increase in the state’s cigarette tax. Raising the price of tobacco has a direct correlation with good health.”
The American Cancer Society expressed their support for the proposal as well.
"Tobacco use takes nearly 10,000 lives in Tennessee each year; it almost took mine," Nancy Skinner, lung cancer survivor and American Cancer Society volunteer, said. "Research shows we can reduce smoking rates through a tobacco tax increase, and clearly the time is right to do so."
Sen. Kurita’s bill (SB 2798/HB 3482) would increase Tennessee’s cigarette tax by 71 cents per pack, generating over $354 million in revenue. Tennessee currently has the third-lowest cigarette tax in the nation and among the lowest rates in the Southeast, she said. The increase would move Tennessee’s total cigarette tax to 91 cents per pack – the national average.
In addition to funding an expanded health care safety net, the bill designates funds for an anti-smoking iniative and allows additional monies to be used to reduce the sales tax on food.
“Some legislators are talking about reducing the sales tax on food while Gov. Bredesen has suggested expanding health care access,” Sen. Kurita said. “I say why not do both? We clearly have the resources to fund a tremendous health care initiative, protect our children, and help Tennessee families buy groceries at more affordable prices.”
“I’m encouraged by what I see as growing support for this bill,” Sen. Kurita said. “In addition to moving forward on preventing youth smoking, this bill will allow us to fund a serious health care initiative. We need to seize this opportunity and make a commitment to keep Tennesseans healthy.”
Sen. Kurita is one of only two nurses in the Senate. She is the only woman serving on the Senate Finance Committee, where similar bills have hit stumbling blocks in the past. She says she believes this could be the year her bill sees a Senate floor vote.
“The time for this bill has come,” Sen. Kurita said. “With so many benefits, it’s hard to imagine how anyone but the big tobacco companies could be opposed to this bill.”
CHART is a grassroots coalition made up of more than 50 partner organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association of Tennessee, as well as thousands of individual members working to improve the quality of life for all Tennesseans and lower health care costs by reducing the tragic effects of tobacco use through public education and mobilization.