The other evening I saw a commercial where four high schoolers underneath bleachers discover a grotesque spider that attacks one of the boys in the mouth before crawling into a cigarette box.
The intention of this commercial, no doubt, is to discourage teenagers from consuming tobacco products. According to the organizations who fund these commercials, doing so will result in less mouth/lung complications and thus overall healthier teens. However, this policy is a double-edged sword, as less teenagers buying tobacco products results in less tobacco tax being accumulated, which means that CHIP has been underfunded, resulting in children not receiving needed health insurance, which equates to less overall health. In this way, government agencies are harming the health of the people they are trying to help! For this reason, the government should stop robbing themselves of child healthcare revenue by cutting funding to all anti-tobacco television campaigns and instead directly fund CHIP.
A few years ago, the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, or CHIRPA, became law. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, CHIRPA reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance program, which gives money from the federal government to state governments to pay for the health insurance of children from families who are poor but don’t qualify for Medicaid. Over 5.7 million children nationwide receive a majority of their health insurance from CHIP funding. Over the three year period from 2013-2015, an average of 19.2 billion dollars was allotted from the federal budget to the Department of Health and Human Services for CHIP. However, in 2016, this number fell to a low of 5.7 billion dollars. Why? Without a doubt, a great portion of this is because the Affordable Care Act absorbed more of the health insurance burden and therefore pulled funding away from CHIP. However, this does not cover the entire decrease in funding for CHIP. A drop in the total revenue obtained from the excise tax on tobacco products also explains the decrease. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, CHIP has always been primarily funded by this excise tax on tobacco. The tax is about one dollar per pack of cigarettes, snuff, etc., and the majority of the revenue from this tax goes directly to funding CHIP. The revenue decrease from the tax can be explained by the 7 percent decrease in students who use tobacco products regularly over the past 10 years. Why? Because this has drastically reduced total tobacco consumption (especially since the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that students who use tobacco comprise nearly 20% of all tobacco users). Less consumption has reduced the amount of tobacco products produced and therefore taxed. When totaled for the entire year, this reduction would mean a drastic decrease in revenue from the tobacco excise tax going to fund CHIP.
Form here, we need to ask why did the number of student smokers drop so drastically. A possible explanation is that the gradual rise in sales tax on tobacco products has dissuaded young users from buying tobacco, but this is nonsensical, as teen users, unlike adult users, have no expenses to pay, and thus have sufficient funds to purchase tobacco. Rather, the main reason why teenagers have been buying less tobacco products is that they have been scared out of it by anti-tobacco television ads, most of which are executed by the Ad Council and funded primarily by the Department of Health and Human Services and the FDA. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that teen tobacco sue began to decline at roughly the same time that anti-tobacco ads became more prominent.
We now see why CHIP is underfunded, but are children really receiving less care on the average than before the onslaught of anti-tobacco ads aimed at teens? Well, according to Child Trends Data Bank just as many teenagers have health insurance now as in recent years. However, this percentage is likely to drop in upcoming years as funding for CHIP catches up with the decrease in revenue from the tobacco excise tax. Also, some of these children are instead being covered through the Affordable Care Act, which provides far inferior health insurance compared to CHIP.
On the whole, the government’s choice to fund anti-tobacco ads is a losing strategy, as the benefits do not outweigh the costs. Having teenagers consume less tobacco does not outweigh them having inferior health insurance from the Affordable Care Act or no health insurance at all. Not using tobacco improves only lung and mouth health, while not having health insurance can put children at risk for problems with all parts and aspects of the body. Voters should petition legislators to end these advertisements, as they hurt everyday citizens at the expense of providing government bureaucracies with things to do to keep busy.
Clearly, the Department of Health and Human Service and the FDA’s practice of funding anti-tobacco ads is a flawed policy that should be ended. Any policy that bankrupts itself is a policy that should not exist! Although the policy may slightly reduce tobacco use among teens, it indirectly leads to less funding to children’s health insurance. This can leave children vulnerable to an onslaught of health related-issues much worse than marred mouths and lungs. Instead of their current agenda, both departments should stop funding the advertisements and instead channel money to pay for CHIP directly so that all children can receive the health insurance they need. This way, the opportunity cost incurred will be much lower than the opportunity cost in the current policy. If more taxpayers knew about the other “edge” of this ad-funding policy, they would be outraged and would demand either an end to the anti-tobacco ad campaign targeted at teens or a new source of funding for CHOP other than a tobacco excise tax. Furthermore, knowledge of the government causing a reduction of children’s health would perplex and even trouble average citizens. It would make them question whether or not government interference in the free market is even beneficial to society, even if the government acts with seemingly good intentions.