West Virginia — smoking rate 29.9 percent — Senate passes cigarette tax

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I have no idea if this bill is going to pass, but this in itself is a pretty amazing development.

West Virginia, a solidly red Republican state (Obama got less than 30 percent of the vote in 2012) and  either the No. 1- or No. 2-ranked smoking state in the nation (in the last survey, West Virginia was No. 2 at a staggering 29.9 percent smoking rate, just a tick behind Kentucky.), passed a pretty significant cigarette tax increase in the State Senate.

West Virginia’s cigarette tax is one of the lowest in the nation at 55 cents a pack, no surprise in such a conservative state with such a high smoking rate. The average state cigarette tax in the nation is about $1.50 a pack.

A bill was introduced in the W.Va. Legislature to raise the cigarette tax to $1 a pack, a pretty modest increase that would leave W.Va. still well below the national average tax. However, that bill, proposed by the governor, was amended to raise the tax by $1 a pack to $1.55 a pack, right around the national average.

In a Republican-dominated State Senate, the bill passed by a margin of 26-6. Wow. Republicans favoured the bill 12-6, joining 14 Democrats in favour. That blows me away.

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Smoking rates in the U.S. West Virginia is pitch black.

The tax increase would raise an estimated $115 million and would help West Virginia balance a severely strapped budget.

In my mind, more importantly, the tax increase would likely make a dent in West Virginia’s shockingly high smoking rate. Studies have shown that a $1 a pack cigarette tax effectively lowers the smoking rate by 10 percent. It actually does help encourage smokers to quit to hit them in the pocketbook.

From a Charleston, W.Va., Gazette article:

Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, a physician, noted that 10 times as many West Virginians die from tobacco-related illness as die from narcotics overdoses and said the existing 55-cent-a-pack tax is not enough to motivate smokers to quit.

“You have to hit somebody hard enough in the pocketbook that they say, ‘Now, I’ll quit,’ ” Takubo said.

While tobacco taxes are sometimes seen as inordinately burdensome on the poor, Takubo said smokers spend an average of $4,700 a year on cigarettes, money he suggested would greatly benefit low-income families.

“That’s a big number that can help out a lot of people — that’s cash,” he said.

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West Virginia also has one of the highest lung cancer rates in the U.S.

Not coincidentally, West Virginia also has one of the highest lung cancer death rates in the nation, (also partly because of the state’s coal industry.).

The governor is apparently on board with the cigarette tax increase, but I have no idea if the tax increase will pass in West Virginia’s State Assembly. As I pointed out before, the state’s budget is extremely tight and they’d be pissing away $115 million a year in revenue rejecting the tax.
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I can’t keep track in every single state, but I know cigarette tax bills are making their ways through legislatures in several states, including Indiana, Louisiana and California. California plans a state ballot measure to raise its ridiculously low 87 cents a pack cigarette pack. A similar bill in California barely failed a couple of years ago, literally by a few thousand votes, after Big Tobacco poured millions of dollars into defeating it.

 

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