Cigarette tax hike shelved amid opposition

By By Jim Beam / American Press

BATON ROUGE — Efforts to increase the state’s cigarette tax struck out here Monday after anti-smoking organizations and the

state’s convenience store spokesmen had their turns at bat.

Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, said he thinks the issue is dead for this session. He is a member of the House Ways and Means

Committee that hears all tax legislation.

Members of the committee never had a chance to vote on any of four proposed increases. Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, was

first up, but voluntarily deferred his measure that would have increased the cigarette tax from 36 cents per pack to $1.41

per pack.

Ritchie has proposed cigarette tax increases at previous sessions, but has only been successful in renewing a 4-cents-per-pack

tax.

Reps. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, and

Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, had bills raising the tax to 60 cents and 68

cents per pack,

respectively, but they also voluntarily deferred their

legislation. Any of the measures could still be heard, but there was

general agreement the odds of that happening are slim.

Ritchie’s tax would have raised $264 million a year; Jackson’s, $129 million; and Talbot’s, $57 million.

Talbot was thinking about using the added revenues from his proposed 60-cent tax to repeal the state’s corporate franchise

tax, but said later the numbers didn’t add up.

Ritchie said after the meeting he couldn’t get a feel about how committee members felt about his proposal. However, he said

in his closing remarks he didn’t think even lower increases had a chance of passage.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said he would veto

any tax increases unless they were revenue neutral. The governor had a

cigarette tax

proposal identical to Ritchie’s, but his revenues would have been

used to replace funds lost by repeal of state income taxes.

The repeal movement never got off the ground.

Ritchie said the governor’s threatened veto wasn’t a factor in his decision to defer because he is always willing to take

his chances with bills he sponsors.

Smoking is the No. 1 cause of death in

Louisiana, he said, and accounts for 30 percent of all deaths. Higher

cigarette taxes

do deter young people from smoking and help smokers quit, he said.

Ritchie is a self-confessed smoker who admits he is addicted

and has serious health problems.

Ritchie said his proposed tax increase would have kept 37,000 young people from starting to smoke and helped 40,000 adult

smokers quit. He said smoking causes $1.47 billion in annual health care costs in Louisiana.

Rev. Dan Krutz, executive director of the Louisiana Interchurch Conference, said his organization endorses higher cigarette

taxes. He said the state budget is both a moral and ethical document that should be devoted to the common good.

Spokesmen for the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco Free Living, the Cancer Action Network and other medical organizations spoke

in favor of Ritchie’s bill. They stressed the lives that would be saved and the deterrent a higher cigarette tax would be

for young people.

The Louisiana Association of Wholesalers and the Louisiana Oil Marketers and Convenient Store Association opposed the higher

tax. They said it would cause a loss of business in state stores located near the borders of other states.

One spokesman said Texas has a

$1.41-per-pack tax like the one proposed by Ritchie, and it results in

Texans who work in Louisiana

being major purchasers of cigarettes. He said Calcasieu Parish is a

major beneficiary because of the large number of Texans

who work in parish refineries.

Tourists who come to Louisiana also buy cigarettes on their way back home and that benefit would change dramatically with

higher taxes, he said.

Darrell Amar Jr., president of the Oil Marketers Association, said 38 percent of the convenience stores in Arkansas closed

when it increased its cigarette tax to $1.15 per pack.

One tax opponent said cigarettes are the top revenue generator for convenience stores nationwide. He said they account for

38 percent of all sales.