Higher Cigarette Taxes Linked to Fewer Infant Deaths

A new study links higher taxes on cigarettes to lower infant mortality rates.
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Apparently the more cigarettes cost, the less women smoke.

Cigarettes are subject to state and federal taxes, partly as a public health measure to encourage people to stop smoking. We already know that higher taxes are associated with lower rates of smoking during pregnancy, as well as fewer health problems for newborns, including low birth weight, prematurity, and birth defects. Now a new study—published in the journal Pediatrics—has found that higher cigarette taxes are also linked to lower infant mortality rates.

Researchers from Vanderbilt University and the University of Michigan looked at over a decade worth of data regarding cigarette tax price increases and infant mortality rates, and found that 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.

During the 11 years between 1999 and 2010, tobacco taxes 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. And after adjusting the data for other influences on infant mortality—differences in family income and education, for example—the study revealed an estimated 3.2 percent decrease in annual infant mortality rates, or 750 fewer infant deaths per year, associated with the tax increase.

While the findings don't offer unequivacal proof that higher taxes equal fewer infant deaths, "we found that increases in cigarette taxes and prices were associated with decreases in infant mortality," said study author Dr. Stephen Patrick of Vanderbilt University

And while Patrick said it's possible that factors other than cigarette taxes contributed to the decline in the infant death rate—medical care improvements during that time, for example—such a change would have beeen seen across the board, and the research didn't bear that out.

Yet despite the improvements in the last decade in care for pre-term babies, Patrick said the U.S. is doing worse than almost all other industrialized nations in infant deaths. "The solution may lie in public health solutions that prevent infants from being born early in the first place," he said. "Like cigarette taxes."

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and a mom. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld.

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