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    La. Senate Panel Approves Cigarette Tax Increase

    If passed into law, revenue projected to generate as much as $42 million a year.

    BATON ROUGE, La. -- A Senate panel approved a new 12-cent tax on a package of cigarettes, most of it directed at cancer prevention and stop-smoking efforts.

    The Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee ignored claims of "overtaxation" of cigarette smokers and shipped the legislation to the full Senate for possible final action.

    The 12-cent tax is projected to raise $27.36 million in the 2002-03 budget year, which begins July 1. After that, it is expected to raise as much as $42.2 million annually. The lower first-year figure comes because of a delayed implementation of the new tax, while retailers get rid of inventory that falls under the existing tax, according to The (Baton Rouge, La.) Advocate.

    The bill started out raising the tobacco tax by 7 cents per pack to help fund cancer research centers in New Orleans and Shreveport and a statewide stop-smoking initiative. The figure was raised to 12 cents to finance additional programs.

    R.J. Reynolds lobbyist C.J. Blache acknowledged the uphill climb tobacco producers face, noting the popularity of programs to be aided. Blache argued, however, that cigarette smokers are being asked to shoulder too much of the tax burden. "I'm talking about fairness in taxation. There are other products that have not been taxed, taxes we haven't looked at. It's just easy to pound on cigarettes," he said.

    Phillip Morris Co. lobbyist Randy Haynie said the beer and alcohol industry has dodged the tax bullet for years. Haynie said the Legislature approved a 4-cent per pack hike two years ago, now comes a 12-cent increase. "That's a 70 percent increase in taxes on your citizens who smoked in the last 24 months," he said.

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