Nevada isn’t a state where I would have expected this, but the state Legislature of the Silver State just passed a $1 a pack increase in its cigarette tax.
The bill, which as near as I can tell has yet to be signed by the governor, would increase Nevada’s cigarette tax from 80 cents a pack to a more reasonable $1.80 (According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the tax was Governor Brian Sandoval’s idea to begin with, so he is expected to sign it into law.) . 80 cents a pack is pretty low. The average state cigarette tax in the U.S. is around $1.50 a pack and state cigarette taxes range from a ridiculous 17 cents a pack in Missouri to a kinda ridiculous $4.35 a pack in New York.
$1.80 a pack is a good spot for a cigarette tax. Studies have shown that cigarette taxes do provide an incentive for smokers to quit and helps to discourage kids from smoking; in fact, a recent study released a few weeks ago bolsters this argument. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids: “Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by about 6.5 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent.”
However, I think if you make the tax too high, like New York’s, I think you start encouraging a lot of people to buy black market cigarettes or to go to the trouble of driving out to an Indian reservation to buy their cigs. New York not coincidentally has a huge issue with black market cigarettes and cigarette smuggling, especially when nearby Virginia has a cigarette tax of only 30 cents a pack. Honestly, I could see smokers making a trip from New York to Virginia two or three times a year to stock up on cigarettes. You buy 10 cartons in Virginia, you save $700 over about three months (if you’re smoking roughly one pack a day) … and it’s only a 220-mile drive.
Anyway, I digress … I like doing math. The real solution to those problems is for states to have more uniform cigarette taxes, which I don’t see happening. Mostly of the really low cigaratte taxes are in the Deep South, which again not coincidentally have some the highest smoking rates in the country. Surprisingly, one of the lowest states in the country is California at 87 cents a pack. California has tried to raise its cigarette tax through voter initiatives, but those initiatives have failed. The California Assembly just needs to suck it up and pass a bill and quit screwing around with passing the buck to voter initiatives.