Hiking cigarette tax is a bad idea

An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel       

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — It is being suggested West Virginia should increase the state tax on cigarettes by $1 a pack, allegedly to help curb tobacco use. That is a bad idea and local legislators who oppose it are right.

Not enough money is being spent to educate people, especially the young, on the dangers of tobacco use, it has been pointed out. Advocates of the tax increase say it would provide more money for that purpose.

More likely, if history is any guide, state government would pump tax proceeds into the general fund, using a small percentage for tobacco education and cessation programs. That is what happened to the enormous settlement – tens of millions of dollars – the state received from a lawsuit against tobacco companies several years ago.

Meanwhile, a report from the National Bureau of Economic Research showed “the association between cigarette taxes and either smoking participation or smoking intensity is negative, small and not usually statistically significant.” The research also demonstrated it would take much larger tax increases, “on the order of 100 percent” to reduce adult smoking even by as much as 5 percent.

Increasing the cigarette tax would harm Mid-Ohio Valley retailers. Some of their customers would drive to Ohio, where they could save $3.50 on a carton of cigarettes if West Virginia increases its tax. Those patrons would buy many other items, including groceries, outside the state.

More needs to be done to curb tobacco use among West Virginians-but a tax increase is a bad idea.

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