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Proposed tobacco tax hike nearly dead

(AP) — With less than three weeks left in the 2018 regular session, an effort by Mississippi lawmakers to raise tobacco taxes is on its deathbed.

Senate Bill 3048, which could have been used to raise taxes, died when the House Ways and Means Committee didn’t take it up before a Tuesday deadline.

Legislators have toyed with the idea of increasing taxes from their current 68 cents per pack to $1 per pack for months. The move is backed by health care advocacy groups who argue that increasing taxes could price smokers out of an unhealthy habit.

As written, the bill didn’t increase tobacco taxes, but it included parts of state law that could have been amended to raise them.

House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Smith, a Columbus Republican, said he decided against taking up the bill, needing more time to vet the proposition and garner greater support from the Republican-dominated, tax-averse House.

Health care advocacy groups condemned the legislature Tuesday for not acting. American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Government Relations Director Kimberly Hughes called the Legislature’s inaction “unacceptable” and a “failure” in a statement.

“Increasing the price of tobacco is one of the most effective ways to prevent kids from becoming addicted to these deadly products and to help encourage those already addicted to quit,” Hughes said.

Katherine Bryant, who lobbies for the American Heart Association, said in a statement the association is disappointed SB 3048 died, but “we will push on.”

Smith said it’s still possible that lawmakers could rewrite any of four bills to increase taxes. If tobacco tax hikes rise from the dead, the legislature has until March 24 to act.