LMHS joins push for $1 user fee on tobacco products
Lee Memorial Health System and other hospitals across the state are demanding a $1 user fee on Florida’s tobacco products to preserve the health of 18 million residents and to generate revenue to fill looming budget shortfalls.
Estimates from economists indicate that the user fee would generate $871 million a year to counteract the state’s $3 billion gap in funds.
Tobacco taxes in Florida, which have not been touched since 1990, are the fifth lowest across the nation.
On Thursday Lee Memorial Health System President Jim Nathan said the campaign’s focus is to make Lee County and Southwest Florida smoke-free.
“Ultimately our purpose is to think of the future of our community and the nation,” he said. “We have an opportunity to make a difference.”
Nathan delivered the health system’s message along with 15 health representatives, business leaders and elected officials at Lee Memorial’s Child Development Center playground.
Recently, the hospital system’s board of directors voted unanimously to make all campuses smoke-free by Nov. 19 — the start of the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smoke Out.
“We chose this location to emphasize the impact smoking has on our health and the health of our children,” said Nathan.
Families and businesses throughout the state spend $6.2 billion each year on tobacco-related products. Each household spends an average of $586 per year on tobacco, and levying the $1 fee would generate millions for under-funded programs such as KidCare and Medicaid’s Medically Needy or Aged and Disabled programs.
Geoffrey Moebius, chief executive officer of Physician’s Regional Medical Center in Collier County, joined Nathan and other Lee Memorial Health System officials in committing to an anti-smoking message.
Hospitals in Collier have already gone smoke-free, he said, and he pointed out that every day 4,000 children try their first cigarette.
The addition of the user fee would not only generate state funds but also, it is hoped, deter children from picking up a pack of cigarettes. An increase of 10 percent on the price of tobacco products would reduce the chance of teen smoking by 7 percent, officials said.
Dr. John Iacuone, director of The Children’s Hospital at Health Park Medical Center, said second-hand smoke hurts children as much as those who choose to smoke on a daily basis. Seven out of 10 children exposed to second-hand smoke have measurable levels of carcinogens, causing 300,000 new cases of asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis each year.
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that $167 billion is spent annually on health costs for patients who use tobacco.
Smokers who are treated at hospitals will have longer stays because of their habit, explained Dr. Drew Mikulaschek, head of Lee Memorial’s trauma center.
“A significant amount of our trauma patients have a smoking habit,” he said. “Hospital stays will increase by 50 percent for those who smoke.”
Because smoking depletes oxygen levels in the blood, a patient will be required to stay at the hospital for a longer period of time while their body recuperates, Mikulaschek explained.
According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the cigarette tax rate in Florida is 33.9 cents.
The federal government imposed a 62-cent increase on cigarettes earlier this year to fund the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Florida’s $1 user fee bill passed the Senate Policy and Steering Committee on Ways and Means 16-1 on Tuesday, but has not drummed up as much support in the House.
The 2009 legislative session ends in three weeks.