Smoking tax increase clears Senate, heads to the House

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Smoking tax increase clears Senate, heads to the House
By Hoppy Kercheval  | WV MetroNews

The state Senate has approved on a bi-partisan vote a $1 per pack increase in the cigarette tax to help offset the state’s budget problems, while reducing the high rate of tobacco use.

SB 420 would increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes to $1.55. Governor Tomblin proposed only a 45-cent increase. The bill also raises the tax on other tobacco products from seven percent to 12 percent and, for the first time, taxes e-cigarettes.

The bill now goes on the House where it faces an uncertain future.

The higher tax would generate an additional $115 annually to help plug holes in the state budget and shore up the finances of PEIA, the state’s health insurance program for public employees.

The Senate approved the bill 26-to-6 with two absent, and over the objections of Senate President and Republican Gubernatorial candidate Bill Cole.

“Today’s vote to raise the tobacco tax $1 a pack ultimately will do nothing to fix the problem (of PEIA) or fix the budget shortfall,” Cole said in a prepared statement. “A tax increase of that size would hurt our border retailers, and the loss of that tax revenue would more than offset the amount the $1 per pack hike is projected to raise.”

However, bill supporters argued the higher tax would discourage smoking and cut down on health related costs that are absorbed by the taxpayers. Senator Roman Prezioso (D-Marion) said Medicaid pays about $277-million annually for smoking-related illnesses.

“I think by increasing this tax, we’re going to make a very important health impact,” Prezioso said.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that West Virginia has one of the highest rates in country of cigarette use among adults at 27 percent, but the state’s current cigarette tax of 55-cents per pack is among the lowest.