Raleigh, NC — Two North Carolina lawmakers have filed a bill that, if passed, would increase the state’s cigarette tax by $1.
Rep. Jennifer Weiss (D-Wake) and Sen. William Purcell (D-Scotland) said the tax could generate about $300 million in new revenue for North Carolina, which is the nation’s top tobacco-producing state. But Purcell told WFMY News 2 money isn’t his main goal. He wants to prevent teens from smoking.
If passed, the bill would raise the current cigarette tax from $0.45 per pack to $1.45, matching the national average for cigarette taxes.
In a February 2011 poll released by the NC Alliance for Health, 66 percent of voters favored the increase to help close the budget deficit and fund health programs. WFMY News 2 Facebook users, however, are sounding off on the proposition.
The tax increase could keep 81,200 North Carolina kids from smoking, encourage 49,500 current smokers to quit and save $1.8 billion in long-term tobacco-related health care costs, according to data from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
“We know that teens are the most sensitive to a price increase, especially as much as a dollar,” said Mary Gillett, who’s a tobacco use prevention coordinator with the Guilford County Department of Public Health. “So we’re really looking at a three-way win for North Carolina. There will be fewer smokers. Adults will quit, teens will not start. It’s going to raise revenue for the state and we know that two-thirds of adult voters in North Carolina favor this type of increase.”
Purcell, who is a retired pediatrician, maintains that the health benefits of the bill are his main motivation. But he adds the extra money it could create for the state is crucial in the midst of a budget crisis.
“I think it’d be extremely important as we’re talking about firing teachers and teacher aides and the cuts to education and Health and Human Services,” Purcell said. “They’re going to be pretty significant [cuts] without another source of revenue.”
North Carolina’s cigarette tax was five cents in 2002. It was increased to 30 cents in September 2005 and rose again in July 2006 to 35 cents. It was last raised in September 2009 to 45 cents, the 7th lowest in the country.
After the hike in 2005, state officials said cigarette sales dropped by 18 percent.
Governor Bev Perdue proposed a $1 tax increase in her budget proposed in 2009. At the time, Reynolds American called it an “outrageous attack on jobs in our state” and suggested it would put 50,000 North Carolina jobs at risk.
In a statement to WFMY News 2 on Monday, the company maintained that position in regards this proposal, too.
“The math is pretty simple,” the company said through an emailed statement. “Higher taxes [equals] higher cigarette prices. Higher cigarette prices [equals] lower sales. Lower sales [equals] fewer jobs. The very last thing this state needs right now [is] fewer jobs.”
By Chelsi Zash