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Opinion | Align Alabama’s tax code with public health goals to reduce smoking

Improving our state’s public health depends on us doing more to reduce smoking rates.

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Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Alabama, leading to $2.1 billion in health care costs and $5.6 billion in lost productivity each year. While we have made progress when it comes to educating people about the dangers of cigarettes, Alabamians continue to smoke at a higher rate than the rest of the country. 

Improving our state’s public health depends on us doing more to reduce smoking rates. That is why I recently introduced legislation in the Alabama House that will create incentives for adult smokers to switch from cigarettes to less harmful smoke-free alternatives.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than half of adult smokers attempt to quit annually, but less than 1 in 10 are successful.  This is because traditional methods of nicotine replacement therapy – gums, medications, patches, and other products – do not work for everyone. Fortunately, there are other options available for those who want to quit but are having a difficult time doing so. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently launched a website aimed at educating Americans about the relative risks of tobacco and nicotine products. The FDA has long acknowledged that these products exist on a continuum of risk, with combustible cigarettes clearly being the most harmful. The toxic smoke generated by cigarettes is responsible for most of the adverse health effects from smoking, including lung disease and cancer. In comparison, heated tobacco products, which heat tobacco without burning it, are 90 percent safer than a combustible product. 

So, it only makes sense for our state to look at ways to move current smokers down the continuum of risk, an approach that has proven successful in places outside of Alabama. 

Heated tobacco products are relatively new in the U.S. but are popular in more than 60 countries. In countries where these products are available, cigarette sales have declined, indicating that adults are willing to make the switch if given the option. Much of the success can be attributed to the fact that for many people, a heated tobacco product looks, feels, and tastes like a cigarette. But because there is no smoke, there are substantially fewer harmful byproducts found in combustible cigarettes. 

My bill would update our tax code and make these new smoke-free products more affordable than combustible cigarettes. This is a commonsense approach that would also save our state billions of dollars in health care and productivity costs as more people are able to quit smoking. 

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We have an opportunity to improve public health outcomes in Alabama. We just need to ensure that we have the proper regulatory structure in place to accommodate new demands and innovative products. I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure the passage of this legislation.

State Rep. Rolanda Hollis represents Alabama House District 58.

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