Senate committee exploring one dollar per pack tax increase on cigarettes

01/17/2018 04:52 PM

FRANKFORT – Members of the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare heard from members from the medical and business community on Wednesday about the benefits of raising the tobacco tax.

There has been a call to raise the cigarette tax by at least a dollar a pack in an effort to keeper younger people from smoking and possibly force some people to quit in an effort to improve the health of many of the Kentucky’s residents.

Kentucky has the highest rate of deaths in the United States attributed to smoking.

Dr. Jason Chesney, Director of the U of L James Graham Brown Cancer Center informed lawmakers that the healthcare costs in Kentucky as a result of people who smoke is staggering.

“Almost 2 billion dollars in healthcare costs are directly attributed to smoking,” Chesney said. “Two billion dollars annually, of which 590 million is paid by Medicaid.”

University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center Director Dr. Mark Evers says that research shows that the state would see undeniable benefits should the tax increase on cigarettes be imposed.

“Raising the excise tax on cigarettes in Kentucky would keep approximately 23,000 youth currently under age 18 from becoming adult smokers,” Evers said. “It would reduce the current number of youth smokers by 4800. It would lead to 29,400 adult smokers to quit.”

Evers also estimated that over six million dollars in Medicaid costs would be saved.

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, has sponsored Senate Bill 29, which would put a one dollar tax increase per pack on cigarettes and earmarks 90 percent of those revenues to a newly created fund to reimburse the state’s Medicaid program for money spent on tobacco-related illnesses.

“I resent deeply that I’ve got to spend 600 million dollars of our tax dollars to treat smike related illness for the Medicaid population when we can’t find funding for schools or other healthcare needs,” Meredith said.

Currently, Kentucky has a 60 cents per pack tax rate which is well under the national average of $1.71 per pack.

Forty-two states currently have a higher cigarette tax than the commonwealth.

Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, questioned why the proposed tax increase isn’t more?

“Why we just want to limit it to one dollar,” Thomas asked. “If you ask me, we ought to do it to 2 dollars, since we’re last, we ought to lead by imposing the highest tax of any state in the nation.”

The committee did not vote on a bill, but voted unanimously to recommend that the healthcare assessment on cigarettes be raised at least one dollar.

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