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Bill to increase tax on cigarettes dies

photo courtesy of telesouth communications inc.

The cigarette tax has died after it did not pass from a committee before yesterday’s deadline. Lawmakers tried unsuccessfully this year to pass the law that would increase the taxes on cigarettes from 68 cents per pack to $1.50 which would put the taxes at $2.15 per pack.

Smoking kills an estimated 5,400 in Mississippians annually, and 1,400 children under 18 become new daily smokers each year, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. The Invest in a Healthier Future Coalition, a group of nearly 50 diverse organizations who promoted the tax increase said smoking costs the state $1.23 billion in direct health care costs, including $319.7 million in Medicaid costs every year.

Additionally, Mississippi annually experiences $1.8 billion in productivity losses because of tobacco use. Meanwhile, the state spends just $8.4 million on tobacco prevention and cessation annually, far below funding levels recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“While we are disappointed this won’t be the year Mississippi starts on a path toward saving lives and protecting more of our state’s youth from tobacco addiction, we’re grateful for the discussion and attention this critical issue received,” said a release from the Invest in a Healthier Future Coalition. “Thank you to those who joined us in support of a strong, $1.50 increase.

They went on to say that even though the bill will not become law this year, more lawmakers in Mississippi are now tuned into the issue.

“We are up against an industry spending an estimated $127 million annually on tobacco marketing in Mississippi, targeting citizens most vulnerable to addiction with a cheap and dangerous product,” the release reads. “But the support for change is there, throughout Mississippi. Our voices are louder and stronger together. We’ve come very far and giving up on the health of our state is not an option.”

Legislators like Senator Brice Wiggins drafted bills to raise Mississippi’s cigarette tax which is currently 68 cents per pack. This ranks 40th in the nation, ultimately contributing the state’s high adult smoking rate and low life expectancy.

Wiggins said the tax increase would also help reduce Medicaid costs as a recent report given to the Senate Medicaid Committee says 33% of Medicaid beneficiaries are smokers.

“It is an honor and privilege to work with Mississippians from across the state to reduce our Medicaid costs and get us off the bottom of the health rankings,” said Senator Wiggins. “Unfortunately, under the dome in Jackson the “short term, next election” mentality tends to win out rather than long term beneficial policy,  which at times requires hard choices that we should not be afraid to make. In a state starving for medical professionals, we cannot continue to ignore the voices of Mississippi’s doctors, nurses and other healthcare practitioners. If we want more high paying jobs for our citizens then having a healthy population and reduced health costs are two of the best-recruiting tools. I look forward to making Mississippi the best place to live, work and play.”

The average state cigarette tax is $1.79 a pack and every state that has increased its cigarette tax by a significant amount has enjoyed a substantial increase in revenue, despite ongoing and tax-specific smoking declines and any ongoing or increased tax evasion.

“The evidence is sufficient to conclude that increases in the prices of tobacco products, including those resulting from excise tax increases, prevent initiation of tobacco use, promote cessation, and reduce the prevalence and intensity of tobacco use among youth and adults,” says a 2014 report from the Surgeon General.

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