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    Anti-smoking Advocates Urge Florida Tax Increase

    Higher cigarette prices discourage underage smoking; encourages smokers to quit, groups say.

    FT. MYERS. Fla. -- Increasing taxes on cigarettes by 38 cents in Florida would stop 75,000 children from smoking and save more than 36,000 lives, a national anti-smoking group said.

    The Smokeless States National Tobacco Policy Initiative, a program of the American Medical Association and backed by health leaders such as the American Cancer Society, said Florida's 33.9-cent tax on cigarettes is less than half the national average of 72 cents per pack and does little to prevent children from trying cigarettes in the first place. The group issued its updated report this week, encouraging Florida and 29 other states to reap the financial and health rewards of raising tobacco taxes.

    "We know it works to discourage smoking: It helps keep kids from becoming smokers and helps smokers quit," Thomas Houston of the American Medical Association, who also is Smokeless States' co-director. He said the annual health care costs in Florida from smoking are more than $4.93 billion annually ? almost 10 percent of Florida's $53 billion budget this year.

    States stand to gain millions of dollars in new tax revenue by raising cigarette taxes by a few cents, the report found, according to The Ft. Myers (FL) News-Press. In Florida, a $38.1-cent tax increase would raise about $430.8 million in new dollars ? and that's a conservative effort tempered by declines from quitters or those who buy online.

    A number of studies have shown that making cigarettes more costly reduces accessibility and causes an immediate decline in the number of smokers, particularly among children and lower-income adults. One such study shows youth smoking rates decline by 7 percent for every 10 percent increase in the price of a pack of cigarettes.

    In Florida, health officials estimated 24,000 children would be saved from a smoking death with a tax increase while 58,000 adults would quit.

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