By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Kentucky ACTION, the Louisville-based anti-smoking group, is once again planning a push to convince lawmakers to increase the state's cigarette tax by 75 cents when the General Assembly begins meeting in January.
Increasing Kentucky's 3-cent tax on a pack of cigarettes, the second-lowest rate in the nation behind Virginia's 2 cent tax, would discourage teen smoking and raise millions in new tax dollars for a state budget in desperate need of revenue, Paul Kiser, the group's manager of advocacy and education, said Tuesday.
"Study after study, even those done by the tobacco companies, shows that the No. 1 deterrent to teenage smoking is price," Kiser said. "An increase of 75 cents a pack would save 30,000 lives and prevent more than 60,000 children from becoming addicted to smoking."
A state study in 2000 showed Kentucky has the highest rate of smoking among middle school students, 21.5 percent, and the 46th highest rate for high school students at 37.4 percent.
Increasing the tax by 75 cents would also raise more than $400 million in new revenue for a state that has struggled the past three years with massive budget deficits as high as $700 million, Kiser said.
"We don't care what they spend the money on, though we would like to see some of it spent on prevention programs," Kiser said. "We just want the legislature to provide some leadership on this issue."
Kentucky Action, which stands for Alliance to Control Tobacco in Our Neighborhoods, has unsuccessfully tried in the past to win passage of a tax increase in Frankfort.
It is affiliated with several health-related organizations including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association.
State Rep. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said Tuesday he does not believe the legislature would raise the tobacco excise tax next year.
"Farmers don't want it. Businesses don't want it. Consumers don't want it," said Thayer, who represents southern Kenton County in Frankfort.
"I don't see much support for it at this time ... and I'm very skeptical of raising taxes to deter behavior."
But Kiser refers to a January poll of 500 likely voters statewide that 60 percent of respondents favor raising the tax by 75 cents.
Thirty-seven percent were opposed.
The poll, performed by the Mellman Group of Washington, carried a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 points.
The national average of state cigarette taxes is 72.9 cents. Ohio's is 55 cents and Indiana's is 55.5 cents.
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