Governments impose taxes on cigarettes in part as a public health measure, to encourage people to stop smoking. But a new study suggests the high cost may also lead to lower infant mortality.
Higher cigarette taxes are already associated with lower rates of smoking during pregnancy, and fewer health problems for newborns, such as low birth weight, prematurity and birth defects. This study, published in the journal Pediatrics, is the first to evaluate the impact of those taxes on infant mortality rates in the US.
Researchers from Vanderbilt University and the University of Michigan looked at a decade of data about cigarette tax and price increases and infant mortality rates. In addition to the general association, they found that higher cigarette taxes had more of a positive impact in African American communities than in non-Hispanic white ones.
Despite improvements in medical care for pre-term babies, lead author Stephen Patrick notes "the U.S. is doing worse than almost all other industrialized nations in infant deaths. The solution," he said, "may lie in public health solutions that prevent infants from being born early in the first place - like cigarette taxes."