Health Desk
3:14 pm
Mon June 9, 2014

Durbin: Raise Tobacco Tax To Fund Medical Research

Sen. Dick Durbin answers questions from reporters Monday after a speech at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield. The Illinois Democrat is calling for a higher federal tobacco tax to pay for more basic medical research.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Sen. Dick Durbin wants a cigarette tax hike to help pay for basic medical research. The Illinois Democrat made his case Monday in Springfield, before a group of doctors and scientists at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

Brian Mackey reports on Sen. Dick Durbin's call for increased funding of medical research, funded in part by a $0.95 increase in the federal tax on tobacco products.

Durbin says federal investment in basic medical research has lagged far behind inflation. He says a decade ago, 30 percent of grant proposals were funded, while today that number is down to just 15 percent.

He singled out the advances being made by SIU researchers on cancer, Alzheimer's and hearing loss. But he says good work isn't enough.

"What could keep us from making discoveries that we desperately need is not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of federal funding," Durbin says.

He says supporting medical research should be fundamental to Americans and their politicians.

"If you've ever been in a doctor's office and received a diagnosis that scared the hell out of you, the first thing you say is, 'Doctor, is there a cure? Is there a drug? Is there a surgery?'" Durbin says. "You count on it when you're facing these things. And that's why we as a nation have to continue to create an environment where medical research can thrive and grow."

The funding increase — totaling $150 billion over the next decade — would be paid for in part by a hike in the federal tobacco tax. Ninety-five cents would be added to every pack of cigarettes and other products.

Durbin was 14 years old when his father died from lung cancer at age 53. He says a higher tobacco tax could save hundreds of thousands of lives.