SALT LAKE CITY -- President Barack Obama has proposed to expand early childhood education, funding it with a 94-cent per-pack increase in federal tobacco taxes.
This initiative would provide 4,135 more children from low- and moderate-income families with access to high-quality preschool in the first year alone and prevent 9,900 kids from becoming addicted smokers, said representatives from the Weber-Morgan Health Department, Voices for Utah Children and Primary Children's Medical Center.
Members of the groups were at the Capitol on Wednesday to discuss a report released by nine organizations showing the projected benefits nationwide and in Utah. Organizations also represented included the American Lung Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
Additional funds provided for preschool in the first year of the proposed initiative would come to $33.8 million, according to the report, which also stated that approximately 5,100 residents would be saved from premature smoking deaths.
"Here in Utah, only 40 percent of 3- and 4-year-old children are currently enrolled in preschool," said Karen Crompton, president of Voices for Utah Children.
"Well-off, well-educated families who can afford pre-K education are sending their children to preschool. We know that too many working parents can't afford high-quality preschool for their children."
In his fiscal year 2014 budget, Obama proposed to expand federal funding for early education programs, paid with a 94-cent per-pack increase in the federal cigarette tax and a proportional increase in the federal tax on other tobacco products.
Taken together, these two measures would help ensure a future of smart, healthy kids nationwide and in every state, the report concludes.
"History tells us that raising tobacco taxes is one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use," said Brook Carlisle, Utah government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
"In Utah alone, this proposed tax increase would prevent nearly 10,000 kids from becoming addicted adult smokers and would lead to over 7,000 adult smokers quitting."
Anna Guymon, director of the Weber-Morgan Health Department's tobacco-prevention and -control program, said all tobacco should be taxed at the same rate to prevent youth initiation of any tobacco product.
Guymon said the rate of youth tobacco use in Weber and Morgan counties (7.1 percent) is higher than the state average (5.2 percent). The cigarette-smoking rate is high statewide -- 8 percent among female students, 11.5 percent among male students.
Use of other tobacco products, such as electronic cigarettes, is increasing among youths.
"I see the impact that tobacco use has in my community on a daily basis," Guymon said. "It reduces quality of life and causes suffering, death and disability. Higher prices not only impact preventing tobacco use among youth, but motivate youth to quit."
Youths are sensitive to nicotine and can feel dependent earlier than adults, she said. Because of nicotine addiction, about three out of four teen smokers use tobacco into adulthood, even if they intend to quit after a few years.
Each year, more than 400,000 people die from tobacco use, making it the leading preventable cause of death in the country, according to the report.
In addition, every day, 3,500 youths try their first cigarette, with more than 900 of them becoming regular smokers.
Significant tax increases on tobacco have been shown to be the most effective way to sharply reduce smoking and tobacco-related diseases, especially among youths, pregnant women and low-income smokers.