When the D.C. Council unanimously approved its 2019 budget on Tuesday, May 29, including a $2 per pack increase to the District’s cigarette tax, residents Brandon Hughes and Debra Wells immediately thought of family members who lost their fights to tobacco addiction.
“Unfortunately, cancer and tobacco-related diseases have had a huge impact on my entire family,” Hughes, a Ward 1 resident, said following the vote, the Cancer Action Network reported. “My dad was able to kick his tobacco addiction after 30 years. But that wasn’t before watching his father and both his in-laws die from lung cancer and other smoking-related illnesses. Smoking was ubiquitous among my grandparent’s generation and its impact on families has been devastating.”
Wells said her entire nuclear family battled with nicotine addiction.
“My parents grew up smoking and it was heartbreaking to see them, as well as my brothers and sisters, addicted to cigarettes,” the Ward 2 said. “Both my parents died from smoking-related diseases as well as my grandfather and my younger brother. It was so difficult to watch them suffer the physical pain and the emotional torture when they tried to quit.”
Hughes is the lead volunteer ambassador in the District for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network (CAN) and Wells is an American Heart Association (AHA) “You’re the Cure” advocate. Both are active members of the Raise It For Health DC Coalition, which includes CAN, AHA, the American Lung Association, Breathe DC, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, DC Fiscal Policy Institute and March of Dimes.
Over the past several months, Hughes and Wells joined forces with dozens of other volunteers to talk with every D.C. Council member about the importance of increasing the District’s cigarette tax to help people quit,
with both testifying at council committee hearings.
“When we talked to Council members and their staff, most of them were sympathetic to the issues we were raising,” Hughes said. “Nobody wants to see the next generation addicted to tobacco products the way previous generations were. And I think the budget vote really proved that the D.C. Council recognizes that the time has come to take a stand against a product that leads to lifelong addictions and death.”
The $2 increase to the District’s cigarette tax is estimated to lower youth smoking by 20.6 percent and will keep about 2,400 kids from becoming adults who smoke, according to CAN.
Additionally, about 5,300 adults who currently smoke are expected to quit and 2,000 premature deaths are estimated to be prevented. The District also is expected to see about $5.36 million in new annual revenue because of this measure.
In 2016, the council passed the Electronic Cigarette Parity Amendment Act, which added e-cigarettes to the District’s existing smoke-free law. They also raised the age of sale of tobacco products in the District to 21 and prohibited the use of all tobacco products — including smokeless tobacco — at sports venues in the District, including Nationals Park.
“How often do you have the chance to save a life?” Wells said. “I’m proud of the D.C. Council for passing this increase to the cigarette tax and investing in cessation, but also because they have worked together over the past several years to implement a number of tobacco control measures that are making a difference in the health of their constituents.”