How Much Is Miracle Vaccine Worth? By K.Michael Cummings, PhD, MPH
Imagine a vaccine that could prevent one third of all cancer deaths, 20 percent of deaths from heart disease and 80 percent of deaths from chronic lung diseases. Thankfully, this miracle vaccine already exists—it is called "Don’t smoke." Of course, if you’re a smoker you know that getting this vaccine to work is not easy since cigarettes are purposefully designed to induce dependency, making it hard to quit. Fortunately, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a plan for making this vaccine more accessible to New Yorkers. Three weeks ago, the mayor took one of the boldest steps yet in an effort to save lives and promote the public's health by proposing a $1.42 increase in the city’s cigarette tax. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that as the price of cigarettes goes up, consumption will fall.
The tobacco cartel will not go down easy, since the profits from pushing nicotine are just too good to ignore. Just ask Philip Morris Chief Executive Officer Geoffrey Bible, who last year collected over $44 million in salary and stock options! This hardly sounds like a tough economy. Yet, soon after the mayor announced his plan to hike the cigarette tax, the tobacco cartel's propaganda machine began to deliver its message of doom and gloom, which included threats of lost jobs and a declining economy. What they fail to acknowledge is that when smokers stop buying cigarettes, they don't stop spending their money. Fortunately, the mayor is sharp enough to recognize that instead of spending cash on a daily supply of cancer sticks, New Yorkers will start investing more of their money in goods and services produced in New York City. Today, a substantial share of the profits from selling cigarettes to New Yorkers is exported out of New York City to places like Richmond, Virginia and Winston–Salem, North Carolina. Less smoking is good business for New York City.
However, what the mayor needs to recognize is that getting this miracle vaccine to work effectively will require more than just boosting the cigarette tax. While the tax hike will no doubt induce some smokers to try to quit, many smokers will require help to break free from their addiction to nicotine. Research also tells us that many smokers remain misinformed about cigarettes and the health risks of smoking, especially with regards to filter and of low tar cigarette brands. Decades of unopposed deceptive cigarette advertising will not be easy to counteract. That's why it's imperative that the mayor not only pledge to raise the cigarette tax, but also to agree to use some of the cigarette tax revenue to support a comprehensive tobacco education campaign.
Ten years ago, the state of California took some of its cigarette tax revenue and invested it in a statewide health education campaign on smoking.
The results of this program are impressive; smoking rates are down 30 percent and deaths from lung cancer are down 14 percent. The miracle vaccine works and its cheap! Just a quarter collected on each pack of cigarettes in New York City would fund the entire program. Investing in tobacco control is too good a deal for the mayor to pass up. After all what is a miracle vaccine worth?
K. Michael Cummings is chairman of the Department of Cancer Prevention at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.