Tobacco Tax Increases Proposed in W.Va.

By: Michael Hyland Email
By: Michael Hyland Email

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- West Virginia lawmakers are talking about a plan that would add $1 to the cost of a pack of cigarettes and also raise taxes on other tobacco products.

Some smokers are saying these increases are far too much, saying smoking is a choice they make for which they shouldn't be singled out.

But, some lawmakers say health-care costs related to smoking are getting way too high, and this may help to curb that.

“Adding a tax of a dollar per pack is just outrageous. It's just really ridiculous," says Vicki Dean, manager of Tobacco Warehouse in Cross Lanes.

The state’s current cigarette tax is 55 cents per pack.

In addition to that tax increase, a proposed bill includes a tax hike on other tobacco products. The tax rate would jump from the current 7 percent of wholesale price of each item to 50 percent of that price.

"We know that if this tax were enacted, we could reduce the possibility that 19,000 young people will become addicted to smoking," says Del. Don Perdue (D-Wayne), a sponsor of the House version of the bill.

The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy put out a report Friday about this issue.

Researchers estimate more than 12,000 people may stop lighting up if these taxes go into effect. Also, the state would pocket more than $600 million over five years.

But supporters say this is about more than money.

"We have a particularly difficult problem in West Virginia. We have the highest rate in the nation, the highest rate of smoking among pregnant women," says Renate Pore, one of the authors of the report.

Perdue adds, "My major purpose, though, has to do with those health-care issues that we need funding for to actively deal with."

Under this plan, West Virginia would go from having the lowest to the highest tax on cigarettes in the Tri-State.

Kentucky’s cigarette tax is 60 cents per pack. In Ohio, the tax is higher at $1.25 per pack. At $1.55 per pack, West Virginia would climb higher than the national average of $1.45 per pack, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Dean agrees if this bill were to go into effect, more people would probably quit smoking.

But, she wonders ultimately whether the bill will just go up in smoke.

"Really I don't think it's going to pass. They've been trying to raise the tax on tobacco products for several years, and it hasn't gone through," Dean says.

The last time West Virginia raised the cigarette tax was in 2003, when it was increased from 17 cents to the current 55 cents.

As the bill is currently drafted, half the money raised form this tax increase, up to $60 million dollars, would go to public health, including “$27 million for implementation of comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programming.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) says he's not supporting tax increases, meaning a veto is possible.

But, supporters say they're at least getting people talking about the health-care costs smoking creates.

There will be a public hearing at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 16, in the Capitol's House chambers.

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