A new study says that when the cost of cigarettes increase, fewer babies die. The study links rising cigarette taxes to a decline in infant deaths.
Specifically, researchers said that each $1 per pack increase in the overall tobacco tax rate over the years 1999-2010 may have contributed to two fewer infant deaths each day.
The dangers of smoking during pregnancy are well documented. Complications include infant nicotine addiction, lower oxygen for the growing baby, increased chances of miscarriage, an increase of a baby developing respiratory problems and sudden infant death syndrome to name just a few.
Fortunately, U.S. smoking rates have declined during the years examined in the study – 1999 to 2010.
The research doesn't directly prove that higher taxes translate into fewer infant deaths. Still, "we found that increases in cigarette taxes and prices were associated with decreases in infant mortality," said study author Dr. Stephen Patrick, an assistant professor of pediatrics and health policy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
In the new study, researchers tracked infant death rates and tobacco taxes from 1999-2010, when inflation-adjusted tobacco taxes on the state and federal levels rose from 84 cents a pack to $2.37 per pack. During the same time period, the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births fell from 7.3 to 6.2 overall, and from 14.3 to 11.3 among African-Americans.
Other factors were also considered that might influence infant mortality including family income and education. Researchers still found an association with the rising cigarette taxes.
Patrick acknowledged that it's possible that factors other than cigarette taxes contributed to the decline in the infant death rate. One possibility is that medical care improved over that time, leading to fewer deaths. But Patrick said that prospect is unlikely since such a change would presumably be seen in all states, and the study didn't reveal that kind of trend.
The researchers also examined the effect of tobacco prices, and found that increases appeared to have the same level of impact on infant mortality as tax hikes.
What about the prospect that pregnant women and new mothers might choose to spend money on tobacco -- including higher taxes -- instead of on their children? "That would only occur if smoking is a large share of the household expenditures," Levy said. And, he said, it's important to note that research has shown that higher taxes are especially likely to lead to less smoking among the poor.
While there may be other contributing factors that reduce the number of infant mortality during the research dates, researchers noted that the higher cost of cigarettes means more pregnant women will smoke either not at all or less and that’s a good thing for the babies they deliver.
The study was published online in the journal Pediatrics.
Sources: Randy Dotinga, http://www.kfvs12.com/story/30638397/higher-cigarette-taxes-tied-to-fewer-infant-deaths