House eyes smaller hike in smoke tax

Published 5:00 am Monday, March 23, 2009

An increase in Mississippi’s cigarette tax will not reach ashigh as $1 per pack, and some of the revenue generated will fund astatewide smoking cessation program, a local legislator said.

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, said the House sideof a six-member conference committee would offer senators acompromise proposal Monday that would set the tax increase at anundisclosed amount between 55 cents and $1 per pack. Moak is amember of the committee, which has been debating a cigarette taxincrease outlined in House Bill 364 since early February.

If accepted, the House proposal would designate some tax revenuefor expanding a smoking cessation program operated by theUniversity of Mississippi Medical Center, Moak said. The proposalalso outlines a new method for supporting the state’s car tagcredit program, a major concern in the Senate, he said.

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“That’s one of the main reasons for the tax – to hopefully getsome folks to kick the habit,” Moak said of the cessation program.”Mississippi will begin to see immediate reductions in some of ourmedical costs if we have a reduction in the number of packs soldand smokers.”

Moak quoted statistics from the Centers for Disease Control andPrevention in Atlanta, saying that each pack of cigarettes sold hasan associated health care cost of $10.65.

To combat smoking in the state, Moak said the House’s proposalwould expand the operation of UMC’s 16 smoking cessation programs -at colleges and hospitals around the state – to 25 locations.

The funds would also allow each program to expand its totalpossible number of smokers treated from 100 to 1,000, resulting inthe possible treatment of 25,000 smokers per year, Moak said. Hesaid the program has a 45 percent success rate.

“We think this cessation program is good because we can expandthose hospitals who offer this program at no charge to the localcommunity,” Moak said.

Meanwhile, the House proposal would throw out the Senate’s ideaof using cigarette tax revenue to support the car tag creditprogram, which reimburses counties for giving the credit toconsumers, in favor of using $10 million from the state’s generalfund, Moak said. The money is generated by taxes on casual sales,like commercial trailers, four-wheelers and golf carts, hesaid.

Moak said using the tax to shore up the program would not work,as funding is needed by May 1 and the increased tobacco tax, evenif implemented immediately, would not be able to generate theneeded funds.

“The cigarette tax would kick in April 1, and over a period oftime it would pay the general fund back,” Moak said. “Those moniesare available right now, so you don’t have to see such a hugedecrease in funds going back to the counties. We can take care ofthe issue immediately… then the Legislature can appropriate moneyas they need to.”

Moak is confident the House proposal will be accepted Monday,the conference committee’s third meeting, ending the Legislature’sprimary debate for 2009. Even so, he said Mississippi’s cigarettetax would still be among the lowest in the nation.

“Unless there’s just a political train wreck, this will takeplace,” he said.