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    Can South Carolina Remain Lowest in Cigarette Taxes?

    Senate to vote on raising tax from 7 cents to 57 cents a pack.

    By Hank Behar

    NEW YORK -- South Carolina and Rhode Island reside next to one another on the alphabetical list of U.S. states, but they couldn't be further apart when it comes to cigarette taxes. Rhode Island has the highest tax in the nation, a whopping $3.46 a pack, while South Carolina has the lowest, a galaxy away at 7 cents a pack.

    That, however, may change. The South Carolina House raised the tax to 57 cents a pack on April 4, 2009, with a veto-proof vote of 97-22. The Senate is due to take up the measure during the 2010 session, which is scheduled to run from Jan. 12 to June 3.

    "We're going to do all we can to help defeat the bill in the Senate," said Leigh Faircloth, executive director of the South Carolina Association of Convenience Stores (SCACS). "Raising the tax to 57 cents will put us at a distinct disadvantage to our neighboring states of Georgia and North Carolina, whose cigarette taxes are 37 and 45 cents respectively. Why would you do that? Why would you take one of our assets and turn it into a liability? Our tax has been 7 cents a pack for almost 33 years and this is the wrong time to raise it. It would add another burden to the backs of South Carolinians who are going through the worst recession in years. As a matter fact, the effect on us would be worse than the rest of the nation because our jobless rate is more than 12 percent, well above the nation's average. It doesn't make sense."

    Faircloth said the associate is putting special emphasis on its Retail Day program this year. "Retail Day is when we urge SCACS members to come to the state capitol and meet their senators and representatives one-on-one to let them know how they feel about the issues that affect them," said Faircloth. "And this year the cigarette tax is one of those issues."

    Retail Day is Jan. 20, just eight days after the legislature begins, so lawmakers will get an early earful from c-store operators on issues that concern them. More than 50 retailers came to the capitol last year and Faircloth expects more this year, since the program has grown during the two years it's been in effect.

    For more information on Retail Day, SCACS members and other interested parties can contact Faircloth at (803) 419-0804.

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    By Hank Behar
    • About Hank Behar

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