The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 29, 2013

Bill to hike cigarette tax falters in committee

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette — and don’t worry about shelling out an extra dollar per pack to indulge.

As time ran out for committee work Thursday, a proposal to hike the existing 55 cent tax on cigarettes by $1 per pack fell by the wayside, and the lead sponsor, Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, conceded defeat.

Put simply, the veteran physician couldn’t attract sufficient support to get his bill moving.

“I think it was a combination of things,” Stollings said.

“I didn’t get any love over on the House side, I didn’t get any love in the governor’s office, and I didn’t get a whole lot of love in the Senate.”

Not only would smokers have been forced to dig a little deeper in their wallets, but those who took Cowboys/rodeo star and Copenhagen pitchman Walt Garrison’s advice to put a “peench” between their cheeks and gums also caught a break.

Had the Stollings bill been approved, smokeless users would have felt the added burden with the tax going from 7 percent of the wholesale price to 50 percent.

If both taxes had been approved, Stollings said West Virginia would have seen the base on tobacco products go from being the sixth lowest in the country to above the national average.

“The idea was to curb the use and it would have been a funding stream for several health-type things,” Stollings said.

“Most of the money would have gone to Medicaid. In effect, you could have brought in about $400 million to Medicaid with the 3-to-1 federal match. And we still would have had some money left over for general revenue. It just didn’t have the broad support this year. It might come back next year.”

A physician for three decades, Stollings said the use of nicotine, along with alcohol consumption, spawn myriad of health disorders.

“If we’re going to deal with some of this stuff, and get a funding stream with the drug abuse and recovery, and things like that, that’s probably where we ought to go as we go forward in the future,” the senator said.

Only, the next time around, Stollings suggested the tobacco tax should be more broadly based.

Stollings said he is aware that many smokers are low income.

“It’s a big burden,” he said. “If they could quit, they’d quit.”

In his medical practice, Stollings said he sees firsthand the health issues caused by indulging in tobacco, and even the use of smokeless isn’t safe, since it has negative cardiovascular effects and causes oral cancer.

“It costs a lot of money to care for people with tobacco-related illnesses,” he said.

“We’re probably the No. 1 or No. 2 smoker state, and in the southern part of the state, we lead the state, which leads the nation.”

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