WBEN 930: American Cancer Society Getting Involved in Cigarette Tax Battle

Buffalo, NY (WBEN) -- The legal battle over New York State's attempt to tax cigarettes sold by Native American retailers has captured the attention of the American Cancer Society.

"The American Cancer Society and several other health groups... have joined in making a motion to Judge Arcara in federal court, asking if we can submit an amicus brief," Russ Sciandra, a tobacco policy specialist for the A.C.S., tells WBEN.

In layman's terms, that means that the health advocacy groups - others of which include the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association - are asking to submit additional information for U.S. District Court Judge Richard Arcara to ponder, as he considers whether to grant the Seneca Nation's request for a permanent injunction blocking the tax. The amicus brief does not make those groups actual parties to the case.

The document, according to Sciandra, "will outline the public health implications of cigarette tax evasion that's facilitated by the failure to collect taxes on the cigarettes that are shipping to the reservation[s]."

The A.C.S.'s argument is that enforcing the tax - thereby raising the cost of cigarettes - will get more smokers to kick the habit.

"People who would quit smoking if they had to pay the full price, they continue to smoke, many of them develop tobacco-caused diseases, and we all end up paying for that," Sciandra explains. "The cigarettes that are being sold through Indian retailers are leading to the deaths of thousands of people, and we simply are saying that it's time that we put an end to this."

The paperwork that the A.C.S. is preparing cites a study that was published in the journal Health Economics in October, 2003*. Study authors Craig Gallet, of the California State University at Sacramento, and John List, of the University of Maryland, examined data collected in 523 other studies which explored the link between higher cigarette prices and smoking cessation.

"The consensus was that for every ten percent increase in the price of cigarettes, you get a four percent decrease in the price of consumption," Sciandra says.

Based on those numbers, the A.C.S. contends that adding the extra $4.35 to the price of each pack of cigarettes sold on reservations would drastically reduce the number of smokers in New York State. Logicially, the incidence of tobacco-related illness, death, and overall public health costs would also decrease, Sciandra points out.

"All the talk is about commerce, about land claims, about sovereignty. We just want to remind the court and all of the parties that what this is really about, is public health," Sciandra says.

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*Full text of this study is available for download as a Word document by conducting a simple internet search. The study is entitled: "Cigarette demand: A meta-analysis of elasticities." It was published in the journal Health Economics, Volume 12, Issue 10, in October 2003. (The study was actually written the year before, in March 2002).