Health organizations push for increase in state tobacco tax

JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) — Health advocates believe raising the tobacco tax is one of the best ways to get smokers to quit.

This isn’t the first time a tax increase has come up – it was increased in the 1980s – and again in 2009.

In the 1980s, tobacco taxes went up 18 cents. It happened again in 2009 when House Bill 364 raised the tax 50 cents, bringing it to 68 cents per pack currently.

“When I started smoking cigarettes it was 25 cents. That’s 25 cents a pack, not just taxes,” said Ann Peterman, a former smoker.

Peterman started smoking in college and only quit eight years ago. Since then, she’s been batlling lung cancer and other ailments.
She’s all for raising the tobacco tax $1.50.

“If they can raise the taxes and cause some youngsters, some young adults, not to smoke, Dr. Grantham gave the statistics; it would help a great deal.”

“State Medicaid would save $4.2 million over the course of 5 years,” said Katherine Bryant, Government Relations of the American Heart Association:

She’ll have to work with a legislature that’s much different than the one that passed the tax in 2009. The tobacco tax will also have some competition as we expect a gasoline tax increase to come up this session.A bill that would have increased tobacco and gas taxes was killed last year. And that’s the not the only problem.

“We definitely expect opposition,” said Bryant. “The tobacco control industry millions upon millions, I think it’s something like $125 million here in the state. That’s a monster that we have to go up against, but it’s not like other states haven’t done it. They had and been successful. We’ve done it here and been successful.”

But Bryant sees some comforting numbers.

Mississippi State University researchers polled 446 adults in the state and found that nearly 72 percent of them support the tax increase. There’s a 4 percent margin of error.

“So, I’m pretty confident that the majority supports a tobacco tax increase,” Robert Mcmillan, Professor at Mississippi State University.

But as of yet, no lawmaker has stepped up to sponsor a tobacco tax bill, and it could be rolled into another piece of legislation.

“That’s definitely part of the discussion as we’re talking to lawmakers and talking to leadership,” Bryant said. “We’re providing ideas for them and taking feedback from them to see what they want to see happen as well.”

The American Cancer Society says 5400 Mississippians will die this year because of tobacco use.

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