Tobacco Tax Talk

KY, MO mull 2006 increases

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- With more than two months before state governments head back to their respective capitals to begin new legislative sessions, tobacco tax increases are already being floated in two states.

In Kentucky, Governor Ernie Fletcher said another increase in Kentucky's cigarette tax might be proposed for the General Assembly session that begins in January, according to a report in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Fletcher, speaking Friday at the University of Kentucky's Gill Heart Institute's Cardiovascular Research [image-nocss] Day luncheon, praised the tenfold increase in the tax that legislators approved last March as a "monumental event" -- particularly in a tobacco-producing state that has long opposed such measures.

But the governor said the tax of 30 cents a pack -- up from 3 cents -- still could grow. "We've got some more room there, I think, to take the cigarette tax higher," said Fletcher, who told reporters later that he doesn't have a specific proposal. "And I think you would agree that the deterrent effect that will have and message that sends to individuals is a good message for their health."

Fletcher has not yet decided to push a second increase for the 2006 session, but believes it's something "worth talking about at this point," his spokesman Brett Hall said told the newspaper.

Meanwhile in Missouri, where the 17-cents-a-pack cigarette tax is next-to-last in the United States, the Coalition for a Healthy Future hopes to win voters' approval of an amendment to the state Constitution that would erase that ranking.

The coalition wants to raise Missouri's taxes by 4 cents a cigarette (80 cents a pack) and 20% of the invoice price of other tobacco products -- a change that would jump Missouri's per-pack cigarette tax to 97 cents and propel the state's national ranking to 22nd, according to a report in the Jefferson City News Tribune.

At an estimated average of 1.5-packs per day for each adult Missouri smoker, that would mean an extra $36.50 a month and $438 per year in smoking expenses. "We have one of the highest smoking rates in the nation (and) the second-lowest cigarette tax," Sally Reeves, the American Lung Association's regional program manager in Jefferson City, told the newspaper.

Ronald J. Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores Association, has promised a vigorous campaign against the plan, if its authors don't reduce their proposal.

"Before they go too far down that road, I wanted to once again offer them the opportunity to sit down and craft a compromise," he explained to the newspaper, after sending coalition members a letter questioning "a 470% cigarette and 200% tobacco tax increase."

Leone didn't offer any specific compromise amount in his letter, suggesting instead that "decision-makers from all of our associations meet as soon as possible to try and reach a compromise on this issue that we can jointly pursue through the Missouri Legislature."

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