Cigarette tax is simply good public policy

To the editor:

I first came into contact with the powerful addictive powers of nicotine as I was working my way through college as a part time orderly (male attendant). One of the patients had throat and neck cancer and had to have radical neck surgery. He was breathing through a tracheostomy tube. I watched transfixed as he lit a cigarette (permissible in those days in the hospital) and smoked it through the tracheostomy tube!

Years later after I came to Danville, a patient of mine suffered a large heart attack. He smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and used cocaine regularly. He took cardiac rehabilitation, started exercising and eating better. But when he came back for a three-month follow up visit he reported that he had given up cocaine but could not stop smoking! That’s how addictive cigarettes are. (Research studies at the University of California a few years ago showed that in patients undergoing a heart catheterization using cocaine or smoking, one, just one cigarette constricts your heart arteries the same degree.)

The patient I was alluding to above now has chronic obstructive lung disease of COPD: Ninety percent of COPD cases can be directly linked with smoking.

Those who die of cancer may be the “lucky” ones. Being tethered to an oxygen tank 12 or 24 hours a day is miserable existence as one tries to go about their activities of daily living. Even going to the bathroom or trying to eat a simple meal causes shortness of breath. Yet even some of these people take off their oxygen and continue to smoke. Eventually their lungs fill up with black soot from smoking. Fourteen percent of Americans smoke, yet 40 percent of medical illnesses can be linked directly to nicotine exposure.

I saw a female patient last week who is on 24-hour-a-day oxygen therapy. She smoked very little and stopped years ago, but her spouse was a chain smoker and had COPD. Yes, secondhand exposure is a very real entity.

Many young people are turning to e-cigarettes and vaping. This can lead to later cigarette addiction.

Many patients don’t get their blood pressure, heart and diabetes medicines, instead spending money on one to two packs of cigarettes a day.

Yes, smoking is costing us millions of dollars a year, our life saving crews are making hundreds of trips each year to bring them to the hospital for treatment, and insurance rates are higher for all of us because of this.

Increasing the tax on cigarettes is the right thing to do. Consider it a luxury tax if you will. People don’t need to smoke. There are proven ways to help one stop smoking. Thousands have with a lot of will power and help from medication.

It is very doubtful that increasing the tax will decrease sales. The same argument was put forth a few years ago when we campaigned to outlaw smoking in restaurants, nightclubs and public buildings throughout Virginia. It was said that business would fall off in these establishments, it simply did not happen.

To raise the $360,000 we need to allot to the Danville Life Saving Crew would mean an extra almost 2 cents per $100 assessment for real estate taxes. (One-cent increase produces about $220,000 in revenue.) Or we can get that revenue from the proposed city tax on cigarettes. It is certainly fair to single out this group as the smokers are costing all of us thousands of dollars a year.

Yes putting a tax on cigarettes can save lives, decrease sickness related absences, increase worker productivity, decrease insurance costs and that would be a good thing.



Editor’s note: The writer is a member of Danville City Council.

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