09 December 2009

W.Va. Lawmakers Eyeing Cigarette Tax Hike

West Virginia's Legislature could debate increasing the cigarette tax during the 2010 regular session that begins next month, with lawmakers arguing that could help curb smoking and ease a threatened revenue shortfall, The Associated Press reports.

"Before the 2009 legislative session, Manchin said he wouldn't pursue any general revenue tax increases, including a cigarette tax hike — a promise he kept," writes AP's Tom Breen. "With the changed budget picture, the governor is now open to hearing lawmakers out on the idea, according to spokesman Matt Turner."

But when quizzed about it during interim meetings, recently confirmed Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Patsy Hardy "demurred, saying she's awaiting research looking into effective ways to encourage healthy behavior among residents," the article said.

AP cites the latest figures from West Virginia's Division of Tobacco Prevention that count nearly 27 percent of state adults smoking cigarettes, "the third highest rate in the country. In addition, nearly 3,800 residents die every year from smoking-related illness, the second highest rate nationally," the article said.

The Charleston Gazette also reported on the cigarette tax proposal, noting that "at 55 cents a pack, West Virginia's tax ranks 43rd in the nation, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids." With the average state tax at $1.34, advocates seek to increase West Virginia's to $1.55, that article said.

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