Cash for Smokers'

Anti-tobacco group's poll claims voters prefer tobacco tax to other hikes, cuts

WASHINGTON -- By increasing cigarette taxes by $1 per pack, states could raise more than $9 billion in new annual revenue to help close severe budget shortfalls, a new report released by a coalition of public health organizations claimed. The group has published a national poll along with the report that claimed 67% of voters support a $1 tobacco tax increase.

The poll also claimed that voters prefer higher tobacco taxes to other options, such as other tax increases or budget cuts, for addressing state budget deficits.

The report detailed the revenue and health benefits to each [image-nocss] state of increasing its cigarette tax by $1 per pack. If every state and Washington, D.C., did so, they would raise $9.1 billion in new annual revenue and save $52.8 billion in health care costs, it claimed.

The report, Tobacco Taxes: A Win-Win-Win for Cash-Strapped States, was released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

According to the coalition's poll: By a 67% to 31% margin, voters favored a $1 per pack increase in the state tobacco tax, with 53% saying they "strongly" support the tobacco tax increase. This support crosses political lines, with a majority of Democrats (70%), Republicans (68%) and Independents (64%) favoring the increase. Voters preferred raising the state tobacco tax to other options for addressing state budget deficits. While 60% supported increasing the tobacco tax for this purpose, more than 70% opposed every other option presented, including higher state income, gasoline and sales taxes and cuts to education, health care, transportation and law enforcement programs. By a margin of 59% to 35%, voters preferred a candidate for state office who supports the tobacco tax over one who opposes it. This preference is expressed by majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents. According to the report, states can achieve even greater financial and health benefits if they also increase tax rates on other tobacco products, such as smokeless tobacco and cigars and dedicate some of their tobacco tax revenues to fund programs to prevent children from smoking and help smokers quit.

The current average state cigarette tax is $1.34 per pack, with rates ranging from a low of seven cents in South Carolina to a high of $3.46 in Rhode Island.

The national survey of 847 registered voters was conducted from January 20-24, 2010, by International Communications Research and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Click herefor the coalition's full report, charts and poll results.

Meanwhile, in South Carolina, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Rex, the state superintendent of education, has proposed raising the state cigarette tax by $1.27 a pack to the national average of $1.34 and using the more than $200 million raised to prevent a proposed five-day teacher furlough and to pay for health care coverage and anti-smoking programs, reported S.C. Politics Today.

In Utah, State Representative. Paul Ray (R) is sponsoring three bills that, if passed, would raise the tobacco tax and ban some nicotine products in the state.

The Utah House approved an amendment to remove electronic cigarettes from one of the bills, the Associated Press said. The bill originally banned electronic cigarettes, which emit a trace of smokeless nicotine, but smokers at a committee hearing last week said a ban could stymie their efforts to cut back or quit the habit.

One of the bills targets nicotine candies, which Ray said are not currently on the market in Utah. But he said he hopes the bill will give the state a head start in blocking their sale.

Another of the bills would ban the sale of tobacco "paraphernalia" to minorsproducts such as bongs, but not matches or lighters. The third measure, which Ray has sponsored for the third straight year, would increase the state tobacco tax from 69.5 cents per pack to about $1.70 a pack.

In Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn said he is still in favor of an increase in the state's cigarette tax, a plan that has been talked about since last year, reported the Illinois Radio Network. The bill, which has already passed in the Senate, would increase taxes on a pack of cigarettes by $1, bringing the state's take in taxes to $1.98 per pack.

In Oregon, a State Senate committee heard public testimony on a bill that would give local governments authority to tax tobacco and cigarettes, said The Oregonian. The State House narrowly passed a similar bill in the last session, but the Legislature adjourned before the bill reached the Senate floor.

The proposal, Senate Bill 1042, would lift a ban against local governments taxing cigarettes and tobacco.

One figure that has come up has been a tax of 25 cents per pack of cigarettes, which would raise between $7 million and $9 million a year, said the report.