Leading the Charge

Leading the Charge

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- With a concerted effort going back to May and a recente-news bulletin' outlining how the members of the Senate Finance Committee voted on a proposed federal tobacco excise tax increase, Thomas Briant has become perhaps the most vocal opponent to the tax hike that he says would cut tobacco sales by 6% nationally.

We need a more broad-based tax to fund the expansion [of the Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP)],' the executive director of the Nationals Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO) told CSP Daily News. And that's just the beginning of Briant's argument [image-nocss] against the tax hike.

We don't have a problem with expanding the S-CHIP program,' he said. [But] there are fewer and fewer smokers and tobacco users every year. So you're relying on a lot of tax revenue from a declining tax base, and that's not good policy.

Add to that a collection of other reasons'from the damage the increase would cause retailers to the hit state coffers would ultimately take'and Briant spins an intricate tale of woe on many levels that he said few congressmen fully understand.

That's why he initiated an e-mail and letter campaign to his membership, to newspapers across the country, to state officials and to congressmen from his offices in Minneapolis. His goal: To make sure all facets of the issue are understood by those who are making the decision.

Several [state and congressional officials] have responded that they think raising the tax to these high levels is a good thing because it will cause some people to stop smoking,' he said. We don't disagree that some people will quit smoking, but more often than not, the majority of tobacco users will simply turn to alternative sources to continue to enjoy legal tobacco products, be it black market or wherever.

Briant's latest appeal to his members is to reach out to the members of the Finance Committee and either thank those who voted against it or repeat the message to those who voted for the bill. Click on the video to hear Briant's concerns.

By a vote of 17-4, the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday approved the bipartisan plan to renew and improve S-CHIP, a program that provides health coverage to low-income, uninsured American children whose parents do not qualify for Medicaid, but who cannot afford private health insurance.

The bill would be funded by increasing the federal cigarette excise tax from 39 cents a pack to $1 a pack and raising the federal excise tax on other tobacco products, including cigars, pipe tobacco and smokeless tobacco, by 156%.

Thus far, Briant said much of the response from the politicians he's reached out to has been positive.

We've heard not only from congressmen but also from governors, attorneys general, departments of revenue, and some of them indicated that they had no clue that this would have this impact [on tobacco outlets or their states] because we've provided them a very detailed analysis of what could happen to their state revenue if this occurs,' he said. They've thanked us for it. They're now on alert. They're talking with their congressional representatives and they have appreciated the effort we took in contacting them to let them know about this.

Ultimately, he said, he doesn't want this bill to come down to a veto from President Bush, as Bush has promised. We don't want to have to rely on the president's veto to defeat this,' he said. We're urging our members to focus on the entire U.S. Senate. If you've called your U.S. senators once, it's time to call them again.

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