Democratic legislator, anti-tobacco advocates propose tobacco-tax increase

2011-03-08T18:07:00Z 2011-03-08T21:50:50Z Democratic legislator, anti-tobacco advocates propose tobacco-tax increase

By MIKE DENNISON

Gazette State Bureau‌

The Billings Gazette

HELENA — A Democratic lawmaker, backed by anti-tobacco forces, said Tuesday she will introduce a bill to raise cigarette taxes by $1.50 a pack, with commensurate increases for other tobacco products.

“I like to call it a tobacco-user fee,” said Rep. Trudi Schmidt, D-Great Falls, who said money raised by the higher tax will fund tobacco-cessation programs and other health-related programs.

Schmidt and members of the Alliance for a Healthy Montana and the American Cancer Society-Cancer Action Network pointed to a poll they commissioned that said 70 percent of Montanans support the higher tobacco tax. The higher tax will discourage people from smoking as well as fund anti-tobacco and health programs, they said.

“This is an addiction that continues to cost us for generations, and it needs to be stopped,” said Richard Sargent, a family physician in Helena and outspoken critic of tobacco.

When asked whether her bill would be supported by a Republican legislative majority that has stated its opposition to any tax increases, Schmidt said the proposal is a “creative solution” to provide revenue for anti-tobacco programs that have been cut from the state’s proposed budget the next two years.

If the bill fails to pass the Legislature, a voter initiative is “always an option,” she said, in response to a question.

Montana taxes cigarettes at $1.70 per pack, the 17th-highest state tobacco tax in the nation. Most of Montana’s tax on cigarettes and tobacco has been approved by voter initiatives. The highest state tobacco tax in the country is New York, at $4.35 per pack.

Money from the increased tax on tobacco would pay for tobacco-prevention programs, aging services programs, scholarships for primary-care physicians in the state, obesity-prevention programs and maternal and child health programs.

Supporters of the tax said the increased tax would not only fund health and anti-tobacco programs, but also increase the price of cigarettes and other products to the point that some people would quit or not start in the first place because of the cost.

“What this tax is, is it gives tobacco addicts another reason to break that addiction,” Sargent said.

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