New Taxes for Smokers Keep on Coming
All across the nation, states continue to chase after much-need revenue by taxing smokers.
Three-and-a-half years after California voters rejected a $1-per-pack increase in the state’s cigarette tax, Big Tobacco and health advocates are preparing to duke it out once again over a proposed $2-per-pack hike likely to appear on next November’s ballot. Proponents want not only to hike taxes on regular cigarettes but also by imposing for the first time taxes on electronic cigarettes. The proposed “California Healthcare, Research and Prevention Tobacco Tax Act of 2016” would:Increase the state’s cigarette tax by $2 per pack, with an equivalent increase on other tobacco products and electronic cigarettes. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office and state Finance Department estimate the tax hike would bring in $1.1 billion to $1.4 billion per year by 2017-18, but drop slightly in later years. Of the more than $1 billion a year tax increase, 80 percent of the tax would supposedly go to the state’s health care programs, enough to keep doctors from losing money every time they see a Medi-Cal patient.
The Florida House and Senate will be considering a bill that would increase the state tax on cigarettes by $1 per pack. Florida lawmakers complain that the current tax is falling short of what is needed to make a significant difference because it is below the national average. Currently, 28 other states have a tobacco tax that is higher than Florida’s, and the Florida Legislature hasn’t raised the tax since 2009.
In Pennsylvania lawmakers are once again eyeing tobacco taxes to help their operating budget. Tobacco taxes were raised several years ago, and adult consumers already pay more than their fair share in these taxes. A $1 hike in the cigarette tax, which Gov. Tom Wolf had proposed earlier, would generate an estimated $358 million a year. Proponents claim Pennsylvania’s tax is not excessive — it’s the same as the national average and lower than New York’s ($4.35) and Maryland’s ($2).
The South Carolina Tobacco-Free Collaborative has issued a new plan to cut rates of smoking in the Palmetto State that includes increasing the cigarette tax by $1. The plan calls for raising the state’s tobacco tax from 57 cents a pack to $1.57 a pack by 2018 to discourage young people from smoking. The state’s cigarette tax is the 44th lowest in the nation, the group reports.
Massachusetts taxes cigarettes more heavily than most other states, and it rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year from tobacco sales. But, the state devotes little of that money to helping people quit, despite the pleas of anti-smoking advocates. The state collected more than $882 million in tobacco taxes in the budget year that ended June 30. That includes payments tied to a 1998 settlement with tobacco companies, according to the Department of Revenue. But Massachusetts spent less that 1 percent of that money — about $3.9 million — on smoking cessation. In recent years, lawmakers and governors have diverted increasing amounts of the “sin tax” to plug budget shortfalls and pay for other programs, most of them unrelated to smoking.