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Americans Favor Higher Cigarette Tax to Balance the Budget

Americans Favor Higher Cigarette Tax to Balance the Budget

WASHINGTON—Americans across the political spectrum would prefer that Congress raise the federal excise tax on cigarettes rather than cut funding for existing programs or spend Social Security funds in order to meet federal budget needs, according to a new poll.

Pollsters queried 800 likely voters in a telephone survey. When asked which of the three options they preferred, 63% of those surveyed favored raising cigarette taxes, 13% chose cutting spending on federal programs, and 6% opted for spending money from the Social Security Trust Fund.

The poll was conducted Oct. 23 through Oct. 26 by two polling firms, one Democratic and one Republican, on behalf of the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. It was taken as the Congress and the White House battled over balancing the fiscal year 2000 budget.

Although the federal government ran a budget surplus in FY 1999, which ended Sept. 30, all of the excess came from pay-roll tax payments to the Social Security Trust Fund. Spending for all other federal programs exceeded revenues by about $1 billion.

“The Congress and White House are searching for ways to provide a reasonable level of funding for federal programs while simultaneously balancing the budget and protecting Social Security,” said Harmon Eyre, MD, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. “We have a viable option that will meet all these goals. A tobacco tax is sound fiscal and health policy that the public supports.”

The poll found that 34% thought cigarette taxes were too high, 31% thought them about right, and 33% saw them as too low. Sixty-nine percent of the same group thought their own federal income taxes were too high, 29% said about right, and 1% actually thought their taxes were too low.

Voting for a cigarette tax increase also appears to be less threatening to a politician’s career than some other decisions. When asked what would be a “very convincing” reason to vote against a candidate, 21% said hiking the cigarette tax 55 cents a pack. This figure was less than cutting health care funding (31%), spending Social Security funds (37%), cutting education (37%), and cutting Medicare (42%) to balance the budget.

The poll found agreement across party lines, with the majority of people describing themselves as Democrats, Republicans, and Independents preferring a cigarette tax increase. Agreement also existed across age groups and income levels and between men and women.

The survey was conducted by The Mellman Group, Inc., and Market Strategies, Inc., and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5%.

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