Increasing cigarette taxes may contribute to a drop in the infant death rate, a new study suggests.
The higher price of cigarettes may discourage more women from smoking during and after pregnancy, the researchers report in Pediatrics.
The study found each $1 per pack increase in the tobacco tax rate between 1999 and 2010 may have led to two fewer infant deaths each day.
The effect was strongest among black babies, according to HealthDay.
“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,” said lead researcher Dr. Stephen Patrick of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “As a neonatologist, I commonly see premature and low birth weight infants born to women who smoke, and we know that nearly one in five women smoke during pregnancy.”
The researchers analyzed tobacco taxes and infant death rates from 1999 to 2010. During that period, inflation-adjusted tobacco taxes on the state and federal levels increased from 84 cents per pack to $2.37 per pack. The number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births during that period decreased from 7.3 to 6.2 overall. Among black babies, the number dropped from 14.3 to 11.3.
There was an overall estimated 3.2 percent decrease in annual infant death rates associated with the tax increase, the study concluded. That translates into 750 fewer infant deaths per year.
“Taxing cigarettes is known to help convince people to quit smoking, or not to start. This study helps physicians, public health officials and policymakers understand just how much benefit cigarette tax increases can have on infant health,” Dr. Patrick said in a news release.