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December 21st, 2007:

Smoking Drops As Tobacco Taxes Rise

By The Associated Press Friday, December 21, 2007

PIERRE — Smoking appears to have declined sharply in South Dakota since the state tax on tobacco was increased substantially a year ago.

Voters who went to the polls in the 2006 general election approved a $1 increase in the cigarette tax, making it $1.53 a pack on Jan. 1. The previous 10 percent tax on cigars, chewing tobacco and other tobacco products was raised to 35 percent.

Tobacco stamps were issued for 37,389,568 packs of cigarettes through November in South Dakota, or roughly 9 million fewer packs than for the same 11-month period in 2006, said Michael Kenyon, who manages the collection of special taxes for the state Department of Revenue and Regulation.

Although some smokers may have crossed state borders to buy cigarettes where the tax is less, tax stamp sales would seem to indicate a 20 percent reduction in smoking this year.

Lewey Kruger, 53, of Lennox and his wife, Barb, quit smoking Jan. 19.

“I quit because they started ripping me off when they raised the tax, and I knew I should quit,” he said.

A smoker since 14, Kruger said he was going through nearly three packs a day until quitting, which he accomplished with the help of a prescription drug.

“I smoked for the first week I was on it, and I only took it for six weeks,” he said. “I had a morning cough all the time, and within a week my cough was gone.”

Kruger, who admits to occasionally smoking a cigar, said he drops into a jar the money he would have spent on cigarettes. He recently turned it in for $1,100.

“I took it to the bank and put it into a special account for cruises,” Kruger said.

The 20 percent reduction in cigarette sales is almost exactly what health groups believed would happen if the tax was raised by $1 a pack, said Jennifer Stalley of the American Cancer Society.

“This is on par with what we expected, if not exceeding our expectations for the number of people who are quitting,” she said. “This is a strong indicator that smokers are quitting or reaching out to get assistance to quit.”

Stalley was one of those deeply involved in a health coalition petition campaign to get the tax proposal on the ballot.

State tobacco tax revenues totaled nearly $61.4 million through November, Kenyon said. That was an increase of 136 percent, or $35.4 million.

Gail Gray, health and medical services director in the state Health Department, said more than 550 people contacted the agency’s QuitLine in October — about double the usual monthly tally.

“That’s just going up every month,” she said.

Possibly because of New Year’s resolutions, January is always a busy month for the QuitLine, which offers help and free tobacco cessation products, Gray said.

“You can choose a nicotine replacement, whether it’s gum or a patch, or you can choose medications, and they are free, too,” she said.

People seeking medications must get prescriptions from their doctors, but the drugs are free through the QuitLine program, Gray said.

Beginning July 1, the rules were changed to give people up to three chances to go through the program. Previously, only two chances were given.

“We know that quitting smoking is hard to do,” Gray said. “We know it doesn’t always happen the first time. Even with the QuitLine and the products, the quit rate is only 25 percent after a year. But without them, it’s 5 percent.”