Higher taxes and prices for cigarettes are associated with lower infant mortality rates in the U.S., according to a new study. The research, published online Dec. 1 in the journal Pediatrics, found that every $1 tax increase per pack of cigarettes was linked to two fewer infant deaths each day.
“Smoking in pregnancy can lead to poor outcomes like premature birth, the number one cause of death for infants in the first year of life,” lead study author Stephen Patrick, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics and health policy at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University, told HealthDay. “As a neonatologist, I commonly see premature and low birthweight infants born to women who smoke, and we know that nearly one in five women smoke during pregnancy,” Patrick added.
Previous studies have shown that women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to give birth to babies with other health problems, including birth defects and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Higher cigarette taxes are known to be linked to lower rates of smoking during pregnancy and improvements to some birth outcomes, including birthweight. In the new study, Patrick and his colleagues looked at data on changes in taxes and cigarette prices in every state from 1999 to 2010, with a specific focus on how those changes affected infant mortality.
Findings showed that taxes per pack of cigarettes increased from 84 cents to $2.37 on average over the course of the 11 years covered in the study. Infant deaths per 1,000 births decreased from about 7.3 deaths to 6.2 deaths on average and from 14.3 deaths to 11.3 deaths among African-Americans. Overall, there was an estimated 3.2 percent decrease in annual infant mortality rates, or 750 fewer infant deaths per year linked to cigarette tax and price increases.
The researchers acknowledged that their study does not directly prove higher taxes result in fewer infant deaths. They also said that increased taxes could have negative consequences for pregnant smokers who don’t quit and cannot afford to buy necessities for their own health and the health of their baby because of higher prices – a possibility they did not investigate.
Still, Patrick and the research team see their study as providing more evidence for physicians, policymakers and public health officials to consider increased taxes as a way to lower infant mortality rates.
“The U.S. is doing worse than almost all other industrialized nations in infant deaths,” Patrick told Medical News Today. “The solution may lie in public health solutions that prevent infants from being early in the first place – like cigarette taxes.”