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RALEIGH, N.C. -- A state health group is readying a proposal to help boost North Carolina's budget. The plan is to raise the cigarette tax.
The Tar Heel state now has the nation's third-lowest tax on cigarettes but the North Carolina Alliance for Health wants to see taxes raised from five cents per pack to 80 cents per pack. Advocates said the health benefits are clear. "For every 10 percent you increase the price of a pack of cigarettes, seven percent fewer children begin to smoke so there's a clear and proven health benefit in raising the tax on cigarettes," Peg O'Connell of the N.C. Alliance for Health said.
A higher tax is just what the new North Carolina Alliance for Health wants. The group says a 75 cent increase in the tax on every pack of cigarettes would generate more than a half billion dollars in taxes. North Carolina currently charges a nickel per pack. "The state's financial situation continues to get worse, so we have to realistically look at every avenue," O'Connell said. "We think that a state cigarette tax has a great deal of appeal to voters."
Health advocates said a 75-cent cigarette tax hike would save 30,000 lives and stop 100,000 kids from smoking. Still, the big question is: Does any type of cigarette tax increase have a chance in the General Assembly? "I don't think so, if you want my honest opinion," Representative Mickey Michaux told the Raleigh News.
Still, health advocates are asking a state commission to add the cigarette tax hike to its recommendations for boosting the state's financial picture. "When we started this discussion last year, the national average was about 40 cents," O'Connell said. "Now, it's in excess of 60 cents so we think 75 cents is a good place to start the discussion in North Carolina."
The General Assembly must approve any tax increase. North Carolina has the third lowest cigarette tax in the country now. New York has the highest tax at $1.50 per pack. Among surrounding states, Georgia's tax is 12 cents per pack. South Carolina adds seven cents of tax to every pack of cigarettes.