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Higher Cigarette Taxes Linked to Lower Infant Mortality

U.S. study suggests pregnant women may be less likely to smoke if tobacco prices are higher

woman smoking

TUESDAY, Dec. 1, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Each $1 per pack increase in the overall tobacco tax rate over the years 1999 to 2010 may have contributed to two fewer infant deaths each day, according to research published online Nov. 30 in Pediatrics.

Stephen Patrick, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of pediatrics and health policy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and colleagues tracked infant mortality rates and tobacco taxes from 1999 to 2010, when inflation-adjusted tobacco taxes on the state and federal levels rose from 84 cents a pack to $2.37 per pack.

During the same time period, the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births fell from 7.3 to 6.2 overall, and from 14.3 to 11.3 among blacks. After adjusting the statistics for variables such as high or low levels of women sharing characteristics like education level and income, the researchers estimate that each $1 per pack rise in cigarette taxes led to two fewer infant deaths per day. Overall, there was an estimated 3.2 percent decrease in annual infant mortality rates, or 750 fewer infant deaths per year, associated with the tax increase.

The researchers also examined the effect of tobacco prices, and found that increases appeared to have the same level of impact on infant mortality as tax hikes. This is important since "there may not be political will to increase cigarette taxes in some states," Patrick told HealthDay. "Tennessee recently increased the price of cigarettes in the state by increasing the profit margin for retailers and not through a tax. Our study suggests that this approach would be as effective as a tax increase."

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