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Debate Over Higher Cigarette Tax Flares Up

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A coalition of anti-smoking groups is calling on Vermont legislators to pass a cigarette tax increase.  But businesses that operate near the state’s borders say previous tax increases have led to revenue losses and any further hikes would mean even less traffic. 

The Coalition for a Tobacco Free Vermont sponsored a recent poll on attitudes regarding cigarette taxes.  American Heart Association Government Relations Director Tina Zuk says the results found three out of four Vermonters supported a $1.25 hike in the tax if the revenue is dedicated to youth prevention and making heath care coverage more affordable.

Vermont legislators are considering various new tax levels.  Vermont currently has the seventh highest cigarette tax in the country at $2.62 per pack.  Based on projections from the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Zuk says the $1.25 tax would raise 16.5 million dollars and prevent 31-hundred kids from smoking.

In conjunction with the survey, the coalition released a study from the University of Illinois at Chicago that dispels the idea smokers cross state lines to purchase cigarettes. It says that “...claims of massive cross-border shopping and other tax avoidance efforts are clearly exaggerated.” Coalition for a Tobacco Free Vermont Coordinator Laura Bernard says it affirmed the tax is an effective public health tool.

Vermont Grocers’ Association President Jim Harrison notes that cigarettes are already heavily taxed and consumers find alternate methods of purchase. Harrison believes you cannot effectively increase taxes to impact smoking rates when its easy to buy them cheaper in a nearby state with lower taxes.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Tim Ashe says the committee is reviewing whether to impose a higher cigarette tax, with the primary goal  to improve public health. But the key problem is balancing economic concerns.

According to the Vermont Grocers Association, cigarettes typically account for between 25 to 35-percent of total sales in convenience stores.
The House Ways and Means Committee proposed a 50-cent increase. The Senate is considering a tax between a dollar and $1.25.

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