Cigarette Tax Just Makes Sense

Conservatives can rant and rave all they want, but renewing a 4-cent-perpack tax on cigarettes is a no-brainer. Two-thirds of the members of the House agreed Tuesday when they voted 70-30 to keep the tax on the books.

Rep. Hollis Downs, R-Ruston, told his colleagues eight of 10 Louisianians polled on the issue had no problem with a 70-cent-per-pack increase that couldn’t get out of committee. So you can figure out for yourself how they might feel about renewing an insignificant 4-cent cigarette tax.

No, a 4-cent tax probably won’t discourage anyone from smoking. But failing to renew a cigarette tax sends a horrible message about Louisiana to the rest of the country.

Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, is sponsor of both cigarette tax increase bills.

He is a smoker who pleaded with health care experts during a committee hearing to give him some advice about how he can quit what he calls a terrible addiction he can’t shake.

Ritchie admitted Tuesday that he is already having to deal with personal health care issues.

The best argument Ritchie made when the House voted for the 4-cent tax was how damaging it would be to the state’s image to lower a cigarette tax when most other states are headed in the opposite direction.

Governor is roadblock

Renewing this 4-cent tax would have been a breeze were it not for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s completely irrational opposition and his pledge to veto the tax renewal if it reaches his desk.

The governor has been extremely image conscious since he first took office in 2008. He is still bragging about how much ethics reform has done for the state’s image, even though the effects of that reform are questionable at best.

A spokesperson for the governor admitted in committee that there is a health-care issue associated with tobacco use, but said taxing consumption is not the solution.

Tell that to smokers in New York state who are paying a tax of $4.35 per pack and the thousands in that state who have quit smoking because of the cost.

Louisiana has the nation’s second-lowest tax of 36 cents. Virginia is lower at 30 cents per pack.

Mississippi recently raised its tax to 68 cents per pack. Its governor, Haley Barbour, is a former tobacco lobbyist and he signed the increase bill.

The tax in Texas is $1.41 per pack. It is $1.03 in Oklahoma.

New Hampshire, New Jersey and Rhode Island are thinking about reducing their cigarette taxes, but their taxes per pack are $1.78, $2.70 and $3.46, respectively.

Why are they considering modest decreases of 10 cents, 30 cents and $1? Supporters of the reductions said they want to draw smokers from other states in order to increase revenues, according to the Huffington Post.

Obviously, revenues mean more to those states than the harmful effects of smoking.

Colleen Lemoine is an oncology nurse in New Orleans. She got to the bottom line when Ritchie abandoned his 70-cent increase bill. No amount of cigarette smoke is healthy, she said.

“I’m tired of taking care of people who die,” she told the House Ways and Means Committee.

My family realizes now how damaging smoking can be, but the news came too late to save my father and three siblings.

I was a longtime smoker until I quit in 1980. It wasn’t easy. I had tried a half-dozen times. However, it became easier as I watched my dad struggle to cope with his emphysema. His congestive heart failure finally killed him in his mid-70s.

Smoking was a contributing factor in the deaths of my father, two of my brothers and my only sister. My youngest brother, the only one I have left, never smoked.

My children don’t smoke, and I feel guilty every time I think about the allergies my son has had to deal with during much of his life and the discomfort I caused my daughter through her early years.

We didn’t understand the long-term problems smoking might cause in those days, but that is really no excuse. My youngest brother took the wiser course.

Use common sense

If Jindal wants to oppose new taxes, that’s fine. Most taxpayers agree with his stance. However, it should be done with some semblance of common sense.

Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, said, “Nobody is asking us to take this off the books.”

Cigarette makers, smokers and retailers fought the 70-cent increase, but there has been no big push on their part to do away with the 4-cent tax.

Would they be happy to see it disappear? Sure, but smokers are already paying it and can afford it.

Ritchie wants to use the $12 million in annual revenues from the tax for health care. That would grow to something between $40 million and $50 million with the federal matching dollars it would draw.

How can the governor fight that kind of return on a measly 4-cent cigarette tax?

Let smokers pay part of the costs associated with their habit. The rest of us will be paying for most of the health care they will definitely need in the future and which they won’t be able to afford.

Gov. Jindal is a reasonable man, but he is being extremely unreasonable with his indefensible stand on this 4-cent cigarette tax renewal.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].



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