Health and education are more related than some may think. Researchers have long noted the connection between a person’s level of education and health outcomes. Generally, more education leads to a reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes, according to the National Poverty Center.
However, the link between education and health outcomes is complicated, with a host of factors causing mortality rates to differ depending on the highest grade or degree a person completes. Still, there are proactive steps we can take to address both issues. Through public policy, we can link education and health in a way that clearly benefits both causes.
The idea that has policymakers and advocacy groups buzzing is the possibility of connecting early childhood education to strategies that reduce tobacco use. These two goals were brought together in the President’s 2014 Budget proposal, which seeks to expand access to high quality preschool programs and fund the initiative with an additional tax on tobacco products.
Nine organizations focusing on early learning or public health have come together to release a report supporting the proposal, Raising Smart, Healthy Kids in Every State. Organizations behind this effort include the American Heart Association, Save the Children and the American Academy of Pediatrics. They cite figures showing the president’s proposal would fund high quality preschool slots for nearly 2 million additional children from low- and moderate-income families over the next ten years.
The report also estimates the tax increase on cigarettes and related products will prevent approximately 1.7 million kids from becoming addicted to tobacco, which is backed up by studies showing young people are especially sensitive to price increases. This decrease in smoking rates can potentially save 1 million Americans from premature death due to smoking related illnesses.
It is projected that a 94-cent per pack increase in the national cigarette tax would give the federal government $75 billion in additional preschool funds to distribute to states over the next decade. The program will initially concentrate on increasing quality early childhood education for children in low- or moderate-income homes. Therefore, allocations to the states will be based on their “relative share of four-year-olds from families at or below 200% of the poverty line.”
For Oklahoma, this proposal could mean an additional $35.5 million in funds to support preschool education. Since Oklahoma already provides funding for universal preschool, 87% of our four-year-olds are enrolled in pre-k. So this money increase in funds would help Oklahoma serve more three-year-olds, as only 15% are currently enrolled in publicly funded preschool.
The benefits do not end there, either. Raising Smart, Healthy Kids estimates that in Oklahoma alone 24,700 current smokers would quit in the first year after the tax increase, and 25,800 children will be prevented from becoming smokers as adults. As a result of the decrease in smoking, Oklahoma’s ten-year health care cost savings could reach $52.50 million.
There is research to back up this anti-tobacco policy. According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), evidence-based tobacco control policies could potentially prevent 7.4 premature deaths worldwide by 2050. The WHO maintains that raising the tax on tobacco products is one of six control measures found to be the most effective in reducing tobacco use.
Other control measures recommended by the WHO include protecting people from tobacco smoke, offering help to people wanting to quit using tobacco and warning people about the dangers of smoking. Their models suggest countries that adopt one or more of their policies will also see a decline in “adverse birth outcomes related to maternal smoking, including low birth weight, and reduced health-care costs and less loss of productivity due to less smoking-related disease”
In Oklahoma, smoking kills approximately 6,200 residents each year and costs the state around $1.16 billion dollars in heath care expenses. A hike in the cigarette tax would not only address premature death and reduce health care costs, but could also result in 8,100 fewer births affected by smoking in the next ten years. Passing an increase in the tobacco tax and tying it to early education funding makes sense from a financial standpoint, not only for the health benefits but for our children’s educational future.
For more coverage on this proposal check out
- The Oklahoman’s story, “Oklahoma’s early learning programs could benefit from proposed tax increase;”
- The Oklahoma Hospital Association’s statement, “Plan to increase federal tobacco tax will save lives and cut health care costs;” and
- The National Women’s Law Center’s “4 Reasons to Fund Early Learning with a Tobacco Tax Increase.”