Tobacco would cost more in West Virginia if a bill introduced this week at the State Capitol is approved.
Boone County Senator Ron Stollings, the Chairman of the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee, says the proposal would take the existing state tax on a pack of cigarettes from 55 cents to $1.55.
For other tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, the current 7% state tax on the wholesale price on each item would go up to 50% with the legislation.
“We’re just raising this up to the average tobacco tax in America and, hopefully, we’ll be using this for good things,” Senator Stollings said on Thursday’s MetroNews Talkline.
The current state tax on a pack of cigarettes is 30 cents in Virginia, 60 cents in Kentucky, $1.25 in Ohio, $1.60 in Pennsylvania and $2.00 in Maryland.
SB 593 was introduced in the Senate on Thursday with just more than three weeks to go until the end of the 2013 Regular Legislative Session.
Senator Stollings, the bill’s lead sponsor, says it makes sense to implement the proposed increases now for both economic and health reasons.
“The budget is in trouble, for one thing,” he said. “We know that if we raise the tobacco tax that we can cut down on youth smoking and also avoid premature smoking cause deaths, a lot of public health issues.”
The bill has the support of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Roman Prezioso. He says the state is in a fiscal “crisis” right now and an additional estimated $100 million every year, from the tobacco tax increases, would help.
At the end of February, state tax collections were $35 million below estimates but, as of this week, Senator Prezioso says that has grown to more than $130 million.
“You don’t have a crystal ball, but a hiring freeze is not going to take care of this deficit that we’re looking at right now,” Senator Prezioso said. Earlier this week, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin called for an immediate freeze on state government hiring.
The 2013 Regular Legislative Session closes on Saturday, April 13th.