Public health once was described as “what we do as a society to collectively assure the conditions exist for people to be healthy.” Since its inception in 2007, the Bangor Region Public Health Advisory Board has been honored to play a role in the effort to improve the health of this community and is excited to be doing it at a time when so many understand the importance of preventing disease rather than just simply treating it.
With the goal of supporting an initiative that will help reduce tobacco use and the deadly diseases that it causes, the Public Health Advisory Board urges the Legislature to adopt a proposal that not only would level the tax on all tobacco products and raise the state tobacco tax by $1 a pack on cigarettes (bringing Maine in line with other New England states), but would be responsible public policy also.
By increasing the tax on tobacco products and by dedicating these additional resources directly to health costs associated with the use of tobacco, we believe that a proposal has been put forward that helps meet the immediate need for additional revenue while ultimately serving the long-term goal of reducing tobacco use through deterrence.
The connection between an increase in the tobacco tax and reduced tobacco use, particularly among youth who have less discretionary income, is proven. In a year when youth smoking rates have increased for the first time in 10 years, it is time to return to the kind of effective public policy practices that have succeeded in the past to lower the rate of tobacco use.
Even with the lowest tobacco use rates in history, Maine continues to spend more than $600 million each year on health care costs associated with tobacco use; this doesn’t include the costs from illness and death due to secondhand smoke. Imagine what that cost would be if we had chosen not to adopt policies throughout the years that help deter tobacco use.
For all these reasons we recommend the Legislature move forward immediately on this tax and we ask the Bangor City Council and surrounding municipal bodies to adopt resolves supporting this increase.
In addition, and in the same spirit of prevention and better health for all, the Public Health Advisory Board believes it is also time to revisit the level of taxation on alcohol products that have not been adjusted for many years. A reasonable increase in these taxes, with the revenue generated returned to health-related expenses attributable to alcohol misuse, is sound public policy as well. While we are not calling for such an increase this session, we believe an adjustment is long overdue and we would call on those looking to serve Maine in the next session to consider adding this issue to their agenda.
By adopting policies that promote good health, and by supporting our state’s prevention efforts by not diverting funds from the very backbone of that effort, The Fund For Healthy Maine, we can significantly lower health care costs and help ensure an improved quality of life for everyone.
Nelson E. Durgin is chairman of the Bangor Region Public Health Advisory Board and executive director of the Phillips-Strickland House.