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Blowing Smoke
Megan Blume
Antelope Staff
Infographic by Megan Blume

Proposed tax hike will burn smokers


 

Smokers beware. Maybe you should buy those cigarettes now unless you plan to quit smoking.

The Nebraska Legislature is proposing a bill that will take the cigarette tax from 64 cents a pack to $1.99 per pack, an increase of $1.35. Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island proposed the bill, which is estimated to increase revenue for the state by $73 million annually.

“We have come a long way in Nebraska in terms of clean air and better health with our efforts to reduce smoking so far. We can still do more. My proposed increase to $1.99 tax per pack on cigarettes, with a similar increase on other tobacco products, will help us take the next step in reducing heart disease, lung disease and cancers caused by smoking and tobacco use,” Gloor said.

Gloor proposed the bill from a health care point of view. “My real reason for introducing that bill was that I ran hospitals for almost three decades and was surrounded by ill people all day— many of them because they smoked,” Gloor said. “I know how much that is costing society. I consider this a health care bill.”

Colorado has experience with bills like the one proposed in Nebraska. In April 2009, Boulder, Colo., increased their cigarette tax by 62 cents to keep up with the federal tax increase. Proponents in Colorado also advocated the hike to decrease the use of and inhibit the effects of tobacco.

Jennifer Kovarik, program coordinator for Boulder Counts Tobacco Education and Prevention Program believes people will quit smoking due to the increase. “There is an expectation, absolutely, that there will be a clear decrease in smokers,” she said.

The local organization experienced a noticeable increase in calls to their stop-smoking help lines during the first couple weeks the tax hike took place, Kovarik said.

Not all smokers believe that tax hike would make them quit. Rebecca Meyer, a senior elementary and special education major from Kearney, has been a smoker on and off for 15 years. “If you’re addicted to cigarettes, you are going to pay the price for them. It’s like gas, and if that’s what they cost that’s what you will pay.”

The cigarette tax hike would raise cigarette prices in Nebraska from $5 to $7 for consumers. The price increase may cause some smokers to quit, but it may also cause Nebraska smokers to go elsewhere to make their purchases.

The tax increase would make Nebraska’s cigarettes the highest priced in the region and the 15th highest state in the nation. The concern is smokers will leave the state to buy their cigarettes somewhere cheaper, taking revenue away from Nebraska

“If the Nebraska tax increased and I lived close to another state, I would go elsewhere to buy my cigarettes,” Meyer said.

When Colorado increased their tax, Smoker Friendly International based in Boulder budgeted a decrease in sales of about seven percent, said Mary Szarmach, vice president of trade marketing for Smoker Friendly International, noting that analysts predicted the industry as a whole will be hit with a five percent to 12 percent decrease in sales.

The proposed bill has faced opposition from Governor Dave Heineman, who says he opposes all tax increase and wants to decrease the budget deficit by cutting costs not increasing taxes.

“This tax would single out smokers,” Meyer said. “Everyone pays income tax and property tax, but only smokers would be paying this tax. It’s not fair.”

The bill is in referral status, and was up for popular vote by the legislature on Wednesday, March 2.

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