WASHINGTON (CBS WASHINGTON) — Low-income smokers in New York spend 25 percent of their income on cigarettes.

A new study by RTI International caused a smokers’ rights advocate to say it proves high taxes are regressive and ineffective in deterring smokers.

The American Cancer Society said the study by RTI’s Public Health Policy Research Program using state data shows a need to help more poor New Yorkers quit smoking or never start.

“The poor pay $600 million in cigarette taxes and get little help in quitting,” Russ Sciandra of the American Cancer Society told Bloomberg News.

Wealthier smokers — those earning $60,000 or more — spend 2 percent on cigarettes, according to the study. Statistics show smokers earning less than $30,000 pay 39 percent of state and city taxes on cigarettes.

Sciandra said other studies show lower income smokers have less success at quitting. He said low-income smokers trying to quit are hampered by being around many smokers and having less cash to buy smoking cessation aids.

However, previous studies have shown that higher taxes have curbed smoking. According to Dr. John Spangler, professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, the success the excise tax has had in reducing and eliminating smoking in some areas is enough to keep the program going.

More emphasis should be placed on what happens to the tax money, he told ABC News.

“What must be done, in the name for fairness, is to use the ‘excessive taxation’ which the poor pay to help them stop smoking,” said Spangler.

Peter Constantakes of the state Health Department argues that tax increases and other programs are helping people kick the habit.

“Cigarette taxes are an evidence-based intervention that has proven successful in encouraging smokers to quit,” he told Bloomberg. “New York is promoting a number of anti-smoking initiatives, including targeted media campaigns that are designed to reduce the smoking rate among lower-income groups and prevent young people from becoming smokers.”


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