CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would raise the state cigarette tax by $1 over two years plus allow for smoking in casinos and VFWs remains alive heading into the final day of the legislature’s 60-day session.

The Senate passed the bill (HB2646) Friday 29-4.

The measure began as a bill to regulate the selling of fireworks in the House of Delegates but the Senate Judiciary Committee added the tax increase, smoking provisions, funding for veteran and drug abuse projects along with money for volunteer fire departments.

The group, Tobacco Free West Virginia, which has been pushing for a tobacco tax increase for years, is against the bill.

“This is a gambling bill,” said Chuck Hamsher, policy director of the CTFWV. “It’s to give special preferential treatment to gaming facilities in West Virginia.”

Hamsher added the bill is largely for Mountaineer Racetrack which would lose its smoking areas when the Hancock County smoke free ordinance takes effect later this year.

“That’s a very slippery slope once we start going into it,” Hamsher said.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) said the bill would provide the state the revenue source it needs. A $1 increase in the cigarette tax would bring in an estimated $130 million.

“I’m been railing all session because all session because all we’ve done to balance this budget is cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. It’s the same pattern for the last several years because of declining revenues and we refuse to look at the revenue side of the budget,” Kessler said.

The bill will be before the House of Delegates to begin the final day of the session.

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