When the federal tax on a pack of cigarettes went up almost threefold, the American Cancer Society's national smoking quitline had around 13 times more calls than on a normal day.
"On April 1st, the day of the federal excise tax increase on tobacco products, 131 calls were made to the quitline. Normally, calls per day average 10 to 12," American Cancer Society spokeswoman Claire Greenwell told AFP.
AdvertisementAt the American Lung Association's office in southeast Washington, a less affluent part of the US capital, smoking cessation telephone counselor Robert Wright has had his ear glued to the receiver since April 1.
"To give you an idea, we normally would get something like 160 calls a month. On the day the tax went up, we got 139 calls and it's been like that ever since," he told AFP.
A survey conducted by pharmaceutical giant Glaxo Smith Kline, which makes nicotine-substitute chewing gum Nicorette, showed that raising taxes on cigarettes pushed 72 percent of smokers to make an attempt to quit.
Glaxo has also noticed that sales of Nicorette have gone up in the past when taxes on tobacco are raised.
"We do see an uptick in sales when they put up taxes. It does give more people an incentive to try to quit," Glaxo spokeswoman Jennifer May told AFP.
The federal tax on a pack of cigarettes went up from 39 cents to just over one dollar, while users of other tobacco products, such as roll-your-own tobacco and small cigars, were hit by even bigger hikes.
Federal taxes on rolling tobacco, which used to be 1.09 dollars per pound, soared to 24.78 dollars a pound on April 1, while the federal tax on small cigars went up from 1.82 dollars per 1,000 to 50.33 dollars.
Revenue raised by the tobacco tax hikes will help to fund the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
But the tax hikes come as the US economy slumps deeper into recession, and, taken together, the tax increases and dull economy are dealing a double blow to low-income households, because they are more likely to be laid off in the current sour economic climate and are more likely to smoke.
A poll by the Pew Research center showed that around one third of American smokers earn less than 30,000 dollars a year and nearly two-thirds earn less than 50,000 dollars a year.
In contrast, only 13 percent of smokers in the United States earn more than 100,000 dollars annually, and one in five earn between 50,000 and 99,000 dollars.
"The poor have greater stressors, and stressors are triggers for the use of tobacco," said Mildred Morse, founder of the National Tobacco Independence Campaign and a trainer-facilitator at GOSPEL (Glorifying Our Spiritual and Physical Existence for Life), a church-based smoking cessation program.
At the once-weekly cessation meetings Morse hosts in the Washington suburb of Wheaton, she recommends everything from pharmaceutical aids to help from above to people who want to kick the habit of lighting up.
"I recommend things like nicotine gum, patches, lozenges and also pharmaceuticals without nicotine, like Zyban and Chantix, but only if people also have counseling, because people have to understand why they smoke if they are going to be able to kick the habit," she said.
"I also encourage people to pray if it helps them, but it isn't a curriculum requirement," she added.
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