Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Lungs

IRS Allows Deductions For Smoking Cessation

Smokescreen Commentary
TAX CUTS FOR SMOKERS -- Here's a message for decision makers who think the danger of tobacco use is overplayed: The Internal Revenue Service thinks tobacco is so deadly and so addictive that the agency is voluntarily giving up money to help solve the problem. That's right, the IRS has decided that the evidence regarding nicotine's addictive properties is so strong that taxpayers should be allowed to deduct the cost of cessation programs and prescription drugs as medical expenses.

The ruling itself probably won't cause a dramatic increase in cessation attempts because overall medical expenses have to be very high before a taxpayer actually benefits from the deduction. But the ruling has great symbolic value since it comes from an agency that has a vested interest in not giving the deduction, and public health experts are hopeful that it might convince health insurers to be more generous in providing cessation coverage. For now this story offers another piece of evidence that when objective parties examine the vast body of research on this topic, there is only one valid conclusion: Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death and chronic disease in the United States and sensible policy measures must be enacted to reduce the grip it has on millions of smokers.

IRS Allows Some Deductions For Smoking Cessation
On Thursday, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reversed a 20-year-old position by allowing smokers who participate in cessation programs to itemize the service as a medical expense. Having analyzed data provided by the Surgeon General since 1988, the IRS concluded: "Nicotine, a substance common to all forms of tobacco, is a powerfully addictive drug." Attempts to combat nicotine addiction will now be tax deductible just as alcoholism and drug addiction are.

The law is specific about what is considered a deductible expense. Over-the-counter medications such as the nicotine patch and gum are not covered. In addition, an individual's medical expenses, not restricted to smoking, must total at least 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income to qualify. The hope among some doctors is that the law will influence health care providers to include anti-smoking programs in their coverage. Dr. Michael Eriksen, director of smoking and health at the Centers for Disease Control, said, "It's the right thing to do in terms of the dollar invested and the dollar saved.

Curt Anderson, "IRS Allows Smokers Some Deductions," ASSOCIATED PRESS, June 10, 1999.

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