Anti-smoking group ‘disappointed’ in Tomblin tobacco tax increase plan

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s tobacco tax increase plan is being called a “money grab” by an anti-smoking lobbyist.

Chuck Hamsher with the American Lung Association said there’s “big disappointment” in the proposed 45-cent per pack increase for cigarettes and other proposed increases on other tobacco products.

“There is a point of which taxing tobacco products has an impact on public health and 45 cents isn’t anywhere near that impact level,” Hamsher said.

The Lung Association has been pushing for at least a $1.00 per pack increase on cigarettes. The state’s current cigarette tax is 55-cents a pack, nearly $1.00 below the national average. The governor’s plan would add 45-cents. The governor has expressed concern about losing the business of out-of-state buyers of cigarettes in West Virginia if the tax is raised too much. That concern sends a clear message, according to Hamsher.

“This proposal as it is right now is a way to raise revenue but it will absolutely do nothing for public health,” Hamsher predicted.

The governor’s proposed budget also slashes spending on tobacco prevention efforts in West Virginia from $4.2 million to $2.4 million, a nearly 40 percent reduction.

“Not only are they putting a tax in place to encourage people to smoke but we are going to eliminate the programs put into place to help them (quit),” Hamsher said.

The governor’s tax increase proposal would bring in $78 million a year from the cigarette tax increase, a 7-12 percent tax increase on other tobacco products and a new 7.5 cent per milliliter tax on e-cigarettes.

Tomblin is asking the tax increases kick in April 1 to allow some of the revenue to be available this fiscal year.

It’s believed as many as 27 percent of adults in West Virginia smoke.

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