Advocacy groups are pressing Utahns to get behind President Barack Obama’s proposed 94-cent per pack hike in the federal cigarette tax to fund preschool programs.
Such an increase — 93 percent — would be a win-win for children, said nine advocacy groups that held a news conference Wednesday at the Utah Capitol.
Speakers included representatives from Voices for Utah Children and Primary Children’s Medical Center.
Less than half of 4-year-olds are enrolled in public preschool programs, and tobacco tax increases have been proven to prevent kids from starting to smoke, the groups said in a news release.
They also released a national report outlining the potential national and state-by-state educational and health benefits.
The president proposes, as part of his 2014 budget, to boost the federal tax on cigarettes from $1.01 per pack to about $1.95, plus proportional hikes on all other tobacco products.
The higher tax would result in $39 billion to nearly $44 billion more revenue over five years.
The advocates said Utah would get nearly $34 million in the first year for preschool, which would allow 4,135 more children from low- and moderate-income families to attend.
Some 45.4 percent of Utah’s children under age 6 — 140,466 — live in homes with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, the report said.
It also projects Utah would save nearly $15 million in health care costs over 10 years because fewer people would smoke if the tax went up.
Each year, they said, smoking kills 1,100 Utah residents and costs the state $345 million in health care spending.