Raising taxes typically is not a popular idea, but the option of increasing cigarette sales tax has been gaining momentum in North Carolina for the past several years. Statewide polls since 2004 have shown a majority of North Carolinians support increasing the sales tax on cigarettes as a means of generating state revenue, especially when the funds are used to support public health programs and to decrease teen smoking rates.

Now, the latest poll conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health suggests that nearly half (47.3 percent) of the state's residents favor increasing the tax on a pack of cigarettes from the current 45 cents to the national average of $1.34.

That level of tax is believed to be the highest ever polled and supported in public opinion surveys in a state that historically has one of the lowest tax rates on tobacco. Majority support was found among nonsmokers (60.3 percent vs. 7.2 percent of smokers), people in higher income brackets (59.3 percent vs. 42.3 percent of residents with annual incomes below $50,000) and individuals with some post-secondary education (57.9 percent vs. 34.7 percent of people with no formal education beyond high school). Among registered voters, 50 percent supported the tax increase, rising to 51.2 percent among people likely to vote in state and local elections.

The poll also showed that 49.3 percent of adults in the state opposed increasing the cigarette tax to $1.34 (with 3.4 percent undecided).

The poll was conducted March 9 to April 8, 2010, by the Survey Research Unit, part of the public health school's biostatistics department. A random sample of telephone numbers, stratified by region and income levels, was used to interview 700 North Carolina adults. The margin of error for the main questions in the poll was approximately plus or minus 5 percent.

The poll also found that 62.4 percent of adults supported a tax increase on other tobacco products, including chewing tobacco, snuff, cigars and loose tobacco, which already are taxed at a lower rate than cigarettes (36.5 percent opposed raising that tax). Like the cigarette tax issue, support was highest among nonsmokers (72 percent vs. smokers 33.7 percent), people with higher incomes (73.5 percent vs. lower incomes 58.4 percent), individuals with some college education (72.4 percent vs. lower education 50.9 percent) and women (69.7 percent vs. men 54.9 percent).

"Other studies have shown that raising the price of tobacco products will reduce their use," said Robert Agans, Ph.D., the study director at the Survey Research Unit. "We conducted this poll to provide more information to decision-makers about support of North Carolinians for these policy interventions - including tax increases."

Other surveys that have shown support for increasing the sales tax on cigarettes include Elon University polls conducted in April 2004, February 2005 and February 2009, and by the N.C. Alliance for Health in June 2009.

For more information about interventions to help prevent and reduce tobacco use, see "The Guide to Community Preventive Services," supported by the CDC, and "Clinical Practice Guideline: Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence".

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Tag Cloud