Another bill seeks to raise tax on cigarettes
RALEIGH -- Cigarettes have become a prime tax target in the General Assembly this session, with yet another local lawmaker taking aim at the current nickel-per-pack levy.
State Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, an Orange County Democrat, proposed raising the tax 50 cents per pack Tuesday. Her proposal is one of at least six and follows similar bills introduced by members of Durhamâ€™s legislative delegation.
Such proposals used to exist on the political fringe. But with tobacco less a mainstay of the Tar Heel economy, and the state bleeding from a more than $2 billion projected shortfall next fiscal year, cigarette tax increase proposals are plentiful.
State Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat, has proposed raising the tax $1, the largest proposed increase. He is a cigarette smoker and in the Legislative Building, one of the few public places where smoking is still allowed, his office is usually filled with smoke if he is there.
"I am a smoker and have been for years, and I enjoy it," said Michaux, who introduced a similar bill last session. "But I donâ€™t know if Iâ€™ll enjoy paying $1 extra [per] pack, and it might induce me to quit," he said of his own proposal.
UNC physician Adam Goldstein, speaking at a Tuesday press conference in support of Kinnairdâ€™s bill, said raising the cigarette tax is the "single, greatest scientific device" to prevent children from taking up the habit. It would also prevent lower-income people from spending money on cigarettes, he said.
Smoking among pregnant women would fall, and the incidence of low birth weight babies (the state ranks 45th in the state in low weight babies) also would decrease, health lobbyists at the press conference said.
"Every pack of cigarettes smoked costs society $7 a pack [in health care and other costs]," said Amy Barkley, a regional coordinator for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. She said 11 states have already raised the tax this year and that 20 more are considering it.
Some lawmakers oppose taxing tobacco because farmers are already suffering from a decline in demand due to taxes. They also say that a multi-billion dollar national tobacco settlement, which brings the state hundreds of millions a year, should be sufficient burden on the industry for the health problems its product creates.
State Rep. Paul Luebke, also a Durham Democrat, said the political will for certain taxes stiffens as the stateâ€™s financial crisis deepens.
Luebke and Michaux have also proposed raising other taxes, such as the personal and corporate income taxes, on a temporary basis and raising the tax on alcohol, to close the shortfall.
Health factors aside, the state needs money desperately, and if lawmakers cannot agree on new sources of revenue, then more and more services will have to be cut, Michaux said.
"We have a financial crisis in this state. Weâ€™re going to have to bite the bullet. ... People say you canâ€™t raise taxes in an election year; thatâ€™s baloney. The welfare of the people of this state comes first," he said.