Raising cigarette prices could help babies live

Scientists, and many consumers, know that when taxes raise the price of cigarettes, smoking typically goes down. That’s why the nation’s leading health organizations advocate higher taxes as a way to discourage tobacco use by teenagers.

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Scientists, and many consumers, know that when taxes raise the price of cigarettes, smoking typically goes down. That’s why the nation’s leading health organizations advocate higher taxes as a way to discourage tobacco use by teenagers.

But now those higher prices may be having a positive impact on even younger Americans. A study by researchers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Michigan concluded that when it costs more to smoke, fewer babies die.

Published this month in the journal Pediatrics, the findings state that for every added $1 tax on a pack of cigarettes about 750 infant deaths, out of 4 million annual births, can be avoided nationwide. The association between higher taxes on cigarettes and lower infant mortality rates was stronger for African-American infants, who have higher death rates, than non-Hispanic white infants.

Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the research was based on comparisons of public data from 1999 to 2010 on cigarette taxes and U.S. infant mortality rates.

“Our approach is a different way to think about cigarette taxes,” said Matthew M. Davis, a senior author of the study and professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. “Usually taxes are used in public health as a way to discourage smoking and therefore improve the health of the person who previously smoked, or is considering starting. But connecting tax increases to smoking reductions and to fewer infant deaths brings in an entirely new type of benefit.”

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The threats to newborns posed by women who smoke during pregnancy are well known. Their babies can face health problems such as birth defects, prematurity, low birthweight and sudden infant death syndrome. Yet federal statistics show that almost 11 percent of U.S. women smoke during pregnancy.

Higher cigarette taxes have discouraged cash-strapped teens from starting to smoke. If smoking costs pregnant women more, society could reduce other health tragedies.