States are in such deep economic trouble that even Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former lobbyist for the tobacco industry, is going along with a plan to raise the state’s tobacco tax, the New York Times reported March 21.
While Barbour insists that the tax hike is a health measure and not intended as a revenue-generator, the fact is that he has dropped his perennial opposition to increasing the state’s 18-cent-per-pack tax, third-lowest in the U.S.
State lawmakers are currently debating different bills in the House and Senate. Barbour continues to oppose earmarking any of the money for smoking-cessation programs.
Other states with traditionally low tobacco taxes, like Kentucky and Arkansas, are doubling their tax rate this year, and tobacco-growing states like North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia are considering increases, too.
“Everything lined up for us this year,” said Jennifer Cofer, the executive director of the American Lung Association in Mississippi. “Our state needed money; we’ve made a great case for it for almost seven years in a row; we have healthcare expenditures in astronomical proportions. It’s kind of like, why not now?”
One unintended consequence of the massive federal stimulus bill is that it may have removed the impetus for a tobacco tax hike in some states. “For a lot of these states it will come down to the last day of the session, when they realize they have to get the budgets down and they need X dollars,” said Peter Fisher, vice president for state issues at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.