Public health groups back Obama’s 94-cent cigarette tax hike

President Obama’s plan to raise the federal cigarette tax by 94 cents a pack would put 2 million low and middle-income kids through preschool, a new report has concluded. 

Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal calls for a near doubling of the tax, from $1.01 to $1.95 per pack, with the proceeds going toward an expansion of early childhood education. Taxes on other tobacco products would increase proportionally, bringing the estimated additional revenue to an estimated $78 billion over the next decade.

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“Taken together, these two measures would help ensure a future of smart, healthy kids nationwide and in every state,” according to the report, released Wednesday by a coalition of nine public health and legal groups. 

In the first year alone, almost 335,000 children from low and moderate-income families would gain access to high-quality preschool programs, the study found. By the 10th year, that number would rise to 2 million. 

Less than half of the nation’s 4-year-olds are enrolled in public preschool programs, according to the study, which cites research showing that kids with access to early childhood education are more likely to go to college, be employed and live a healthy lifestyle.

At the same time, the groups contend that the higher tax would prevent 1.7 million kids from becoming addicted to cigarettes and, in the first year, prompt 1.57 million adult smokers to quit.

“This report should compel lawmakers to support the president’s proposal because it demonstrates the dramatic educational and health benefits children in every state would receive,” said Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

But conservatives have criticized Obama’s plan, saying it amounts to a tax on middle-class Americans.

Formerly a smoker himself, Obama was overheard this week saying that he hadn’t had a cigarette in six years, citing health-conscious first lady Michelle Obama as the impetus for his quitting.