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    Cigarette Tax Hike in South Carolina Moves Forward

    House passes bill that would raise the state's excise tax 50 cents per pack.

    COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The state House last week easily passed a bill to raise the per-pack tax on cigarettes from 7 cents to 57 cents, Greeneville News reported.

    The 97-22 vote, sponsored by House Speaker Bobby Harrell, comes one year after a similar bill was approved a cigarette tax increase, but failed to sustain a veto by Gov. Mark Sanford, the report stated.

    The most recent bill, however, will spend the estimated $147 million generated differently. Most of the revenue would be used to fund a new program to help lower-income workers and small businesses pay for health insurance, the report stated. Another $3 million would be spent to help pay for marketing services for farmers, and $5 million would go to smoking prevention and cessation programs.

    "We’re very happy," Rep. Harry Ott, leader of the House Democrats, told the paper. "I feel like we have a real opportunity to end up this session with a cigarette tax that designates almost all the money going to health care, which is what our top priority has always been."

    However, the battle isn't over, as Joel Sawyer, a spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford, told the Greeneville Times the legislation, "in its current form, is not something we could support."

    Ott said in the report the margin of the vote should help the legislation survive any veto by the governor.

    In addition, the bill was opposed by convenience store representatives, who, in a House subcommittee meeting last month, said a state tax increase, coming after a recently approved 62-cent federal tax increase, would hurt during the recession, especially along border areas where residents of Georgia and North Carolina cross into South Carolina for cigarettes because of the state’s lowest-in-the-nation tax, the report stated.

    The bill now heads to the Senate.

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