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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Advocates for early-childhood education launched an initiative called First Things First in Arizona Wednesday to add an 80-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes. The increase will reportedly generate $150 million annually to help children prepare for kindergarten, according to The Arizona Republic .
Arizona, which has the nation's 13th-highest tax rate on cigarettes, would rise to fourth, with a tax of $1.98 per pack, pushing the cost per pack to well over $5. Also, taxes on other products, such as cigars and pipe tobacco, would rise by varying amounts, the report stated.
The money collected would be used for services such as dental screenings, literacy programs, transportation to quality preschool programs, parental training, health screening and teacher training and development, according to the report.
While an economic model, prepared by Arizona State University researchers and other economists, shows the tax hike on cigarettes and other tobacco products would generate about $150 million a year, critics say the amount would be much lower because fewer people would smoke, the newspaper reported.
The plan is backed by a group of business, education and community leaders and will go on the November ballot if those behind it can collect 124,000 valid signatures by July.
However, critics say another tax hike on tobacco may not be a solid long-term answer, because the higher tax will drive sales of tobacco products down.
"Creating another tax on tobacco isn't the best way to go. Where will it stop? Why not do it for alcohol or people who buy turkeys from Bashas'? We're all consumers," Rep. Warde Nichols told The Arizona Republic .
Don Isaacson, a lobbyist for RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co., said tobacco companies don't know the details of the plan. But he said it seems the source of the tax is not connected to early-childhood programs in any way.
"It seems that a small class of taxpayers is bearing the burden for something that is totally unrelated," Isaacson told The Arizona Republic . "I would guess that all tobacco interests will find this objectionable."
The initiative has been four years in the making, after many stops and starts involving a funding source and how to sell the program to Arizona's unpredictable electorate.
The campaign had toyed with the idea of taxing alcohol but decided to leave liquor and beer out of the plan, according to the report.