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By Núria Saldanha, Kat Long, Rai Chakravarty

From 1995 to 2014, the tax on a pack of cigarettes rose from 56 cents to $4.35, the highest state tax in the U.S. Over the same time period, the prevalence of smokers dropped to 14.5 percent, equal to 2.5 million people, the lowest on record. High taxes are “the single most effective intervention for reducing consumption” of tobacco, said Brian Kang, deputy director for research translation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which compiled much of the data (The New York State Department of Health collected state figures.) The numbers don’t lie: when it hurts their pockets, people decide to quit.  

NY Cigarette Tax vs Smoking Rate
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For every 10 percent increase in the tax, there is a 3.5 percent decrease in smoking prevalence in adults, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The advocacy group also argues that in every state that has significantly raised its cigarette tax rate, pack sales have gone down sharply, and New York is no exception.  

Although high taxes explain some of the reduction in the smoking rate, other factors also encourage people to stop smoking. Sometimes the decrease in the smoking rate doesn’t immediately affect the data. Kang said that anti-smoking campaigns in the media, access to free smoking-cessation treatments and the availability of quitlines – hotlines for smoking-cessation information and support – also help people make a decision to quit.

Some research suggests that electronic cigarettes are changing the landscape of tobacco consumption. The data, while inconclusive, show that a significant number of Americans use e-cigarettes and other vaporizing devices. In 2013, one in 10 adults, or 20.4 million individuals, had tried these products at least once, and the percentage of former smokers who have ever used e-cigarettes increased from 2.5 percent in 2010 to 9.6 percent, according to the CDC. Vape use among high school students increased from 4.5 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014, totaling two million students in the U.S.

A 2015 poll conducted by Ipsos/Reuters showed that roughly 10 percent of adults nationwide say they use e-smoking devices.

As e-smoking become more common, advocates and physicians’ associations are calling for higher prices on the devices and stronger regulation. Many hope a high tax on e-cigarettes in New York will have the same impact on the smoking rate as taxes on  traditional cigarettes.