/Cigarette tax hike again eyed for 2019 session

Cigarette tax hike again eyed for 2019 session

A survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies (a Republican polling company based in Washington D.C.) found that nearly three-quarters of Mississippians support raising the state’s tobacco tax. This is the 12th lowest national level. In late October, 500 Mississippians were surveyed by the firm via phone. Similar results were obtained in a similar poll last year. However, despite receiving more support behind-the scenes than previous years, a bill that passed through the Legislature in 2018 received little discussion. Sen. Brice WIggins, R.Pascagoula was a strong supporter of legislation to raise the cigarette tax by $1.50. Wiggins asked lawmakers if the Legislature reflects the people or is it merely their own interests. Wiggins stated, “That doesn’t make sense.” “You can either be against taxes or not,” Wiggins said. The 2019 legislative session will see the American Heart Association, Mississippi State Medical Association and nearly 30 other national and state organizations, together known as the Invest In a Healthier Future coalition, lobby for the measure. This is almost a decade since the state raised its cigarette tax. According to Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ “Toll of Tobacco”, Mississippi’s annual health care costs are $1.23 billion due to cigarettes. Wiggins supports a cigarette tax hike that will pay for deficits in the state’s $6 billion Medicaid program. This federal health insurance program covers the poor and disable, as well as for smoking cessation programs. Mississippi’s adult smokers are more than twice the national average (14%). This high smoking rate is a contributing factor to poor state health outcomes. The Invest in a Healthier Future Coalition gathered data that showed a $1.50 tax hike — which would increase the average cost per pack from $5.50 to $7 — would reduce smoking in the state. According to a 2014 Congressional Budget Office summary, every 10 percent increase in cigarette prices results in a 5 to 15 percent decrease in cigarette smoking among people under 18. Mississippians support raising taxes to fund other priorities. A September NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll revealed that 60% of respondents support raising taxes for schools, while 62 percent support increasing taxes to fund infrastructure improvements such as roads and bridges. Although the state’s largest physician group proposed that infrastructure improvements could be funded with an increase in the cigarette tax, it was largely ignored. Each of the three bills to raise the cigarette tax — two in Congress and three in Senate — died last year in committee. They did not reach the floor for a vote. The Senate passed a bond bill in 2018. It did not increase the tax, but it was written so that it could be modified later in the session to include the tax hike. The House Ways and Means Committee, headed by Rep. Jeff Smith (R-Columbus), voted against the bill.