American Heart Association and the Kentucky Chapter of the American College of Cardiology Urge Legislators and Governor Bevin to Pass a Significant Increase in the Tobacco Tax to Support Heart Health

(FRANKFORT, Ky - February 14, 2018) This Valentine's Day, representatives and volunteers from the American Heart Association and the Kentucky Chapter of the American College of Cardiology joined Senator Ralph Alvarado, a physician from Winchester, in a Capitol rally to urge the Kentucky General Assembly and Governor Matt Bevin to pass a $1.00 or more increase in the tobacco excise tax.

Tobacco use takes a deadly toll on Kentuckians, killing approximately 8,900 each year. Almost one-third of deaths from coronary artery disease are attributable to smoking and secondhand smoke. Smoking increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by two to four times. Smoking can raise triglycerides, lower good cholesterol, increase the buildup of plaque, and make blood "sticky" and more likely to clot, which can block blood flow to the heart and brain.

"Taking care of your heart is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health and smoking is one of the major causes of heart disease," said Dr. Andy Henderson, President of the Central Kentucky Board of Directors for the American Heart Association and CEO of Lexington Clinic. "More than 24 percent of Kentuckians smoke, compared with a 15 percent national average - the second highest smoking rate in the country. Raising the cigarette tax is a proactive approach for Kentucky's long-term health and quality of life."

In addition to the devastating human toll caused by tobacco use, the financial costs are alarming. Each year, annual health care costs in Kentucky directly caused by smoking are estimated to be $1.92 billion, including nearly $590 million in Medicaid costs according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

Studies show that significantly raising the cigarette tax is one of the most effective policies for reducing smoking, especially among youth. Kentucky's cigarette excise tax is $0.60 per pack compared to the national average of $1.72. Kentucky last raised the cigarette excise tax in 2009.

"I have witnessed terrible quality of life secondary to late stage heart and lung disease caused by smoking," said Dr. Patrick Withrow, a longtime volunteer for the American Heart Association and the 2018 Governor-Elect for the Kentucky Chapter of the American College of Cardiology. "My hope is to protect our youth from a similar demise by implementing a $1.00 or more increase in the cigarette tax."

A Mason-Dixon statewide poll commissioned by the American Heart Association and the Coalition for a Smoke Free Tomorrow in December shows that 69 percent of Kentuckians support raising the cigarette tax by $1.00.

"It's time for us to raise the cigarette tax by a $1.00 or more", said Senator Alvarado. "Significantly raising the cigarette tax is a win for health, a win for business and a win for Kentucky."

For more information about the American Heart Association's advocacy initiatives, visit www.yourethecure.org.