Cigarette Tax Boost Prods Some to Quit

Tonette Lancaster is getting free help from the District to quit smoking. The price of cigarettes was getting to be
Tonette Lancaster is getting free help from the District to quit smoking. The price of cigarettes was getting to be "like a bill," she said. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 3, 2009

For Tonette Lancaster, it just got to be too much one day -- the worry, the guilt and the money.

"Cigarettes were $6 a pack, and now it's almost $7. It's like a bill," the 30-year-old, half-a-lifetime smoker said yesterday. "I just said, 'Enough is enough.' "

So Wednesday night she slapped on a nicotine patch she got free, along with lots of information and encouragement, from the District government. She hopes it inaugurates a cigarette-free life.

Lancaster, who is studying computer science at a downtown business college, is not alone in her newfound commitment to quit smoking.

In recent weeks across the country, telephone "quit lines" have registered a jump in calls in advance of this week's biggest-ever increase in federal tobacco taxes.

If the past is any guide, the sizable tax boost should have an immediate impact in getting many smokers to quit, and anti-smoking advocates were making the most of the moment yesterday. Much research has shown that smoking is an extremely "price sensitive" habit, with fewer people taking up cigarettes and more people putting them down every time a pack becomes more expensive.

The 62-cent tax increase was adopted this year as a way to fund the expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. On Wednesday, the day the increase took effect, the District's quit line got 131 calls, a record. The same day a week earlier, it had 44 calls; a month earlier, 19.

"I'm in shock, quite frankly," said Debra Annand, director of health education services for the American Lung Association's District of Columbia office, which contracts with the local health department to provide smoking-cessation services.

"Obviously something happened to drive that call volume up," Annand said. "Lots of research has shown the number one thing that helps people quit is increasing the price."

"Several measures are proven to reduce tobacco use. Foremost is taxation," wrote the author of a report two years ago in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a publication of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A national telephone number, 1-800-QUITNOW, connects callers to programs in all 50 states and the District. In March, it registered 203,374 calls, more than twice February's 91,316. In January, it got 76,685.

Normally, February and March have about the same number of calls, and fewer than January, which is a big month for quitting, said Linda A. Bailey, president of the North American Quitline Consortium.

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