Many can live with this tax hike

An editorial from The Dominion Post 

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There are numerous explanations why the number 13 is considered unlucky.

But today we can think of more than 4,300 reasons why that figure is the luckiest number of all.

After nearly 100 days of stalled negotiations and a last gasp effort, the state Legislature recently raised taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

That increase went into effect today, raising the tax for a pack of cigarettes by 65 cents to $1.20.

State legislators raised the tobacco tax previously in 2003, from 17 cents to 55 cents per pack.

As for that “more than 4,300”number, that’s the estimated number of state residents who die from smoking yearly.

In the past, practically every family in our state experienced a tragedy as the result of smoking.

Though most families today are smoke-free, our state still holds down the top smoking rate among adults in our nation. Ditto, for pregnant smoking and youth smoking rates —two populations especially vulnerable to smoking.

Smoking-related health costs are also calculated at a whopping $1 billion yearly.

Preventable high rates of cancer, heart disease and poor birth outcomes are all attributed to smoking.

With today’s tax hike, our state’s tobacco tax rank is now 32nd, which signals a wisp of progress.

Yes, there are legitimate concerns that tobacco taxes are regressive, imposing an added burden on people who can least afford them.

In the interest of fairness, our state should invest a portion of these new revenues into public programs that benefit those people and their families.

For instance, using some portion of this revenue to match federal dollars for Medicaid could provide millions more for health care.

Clearly, education and smoking cessation program are worth funding too, because they do reduce tobacco use.

However, our state lags all but two others (wouldn’t you know it, Kentucky and Mississippi) in statewide smoking bans in workplaces, restaurants and bars.

Yes, more than half our 55 counties have such smoking bans. However, a statewide ban would not only extend these laws, but also bring uniformity to them and carry more clout than local laws.

We suspect few candidates for Legislature will support such a statewide ban; however, voters should press them on this issue and others.

This increase in tobacco tax couldn’t come at a better time. It’s estimated that this tax hike will raise nearly $100 million a year to fill the hole left by the stagnant coal industry and low natural gas prices.

But more importantly, it will save hundreds of lives and reduce health care costs.

Those are numbers that need no explanation.

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