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    N.J. Tobacco Bill Advances

    Senate approves 20 percent hike in cigarette tax.

    TRENTON, N.J. -- A bill that would raise New Jersey's cigarette tax by 10 cents from 50 to 60 cents per pack passed the State Assembly Budget Committee yesterday on a party-line vote of 7 to 4.

    The measure is backed by Democratic Gov. James McGreevey, who earlier endorsed a tobacco tax hike to address budgetary concerns.

    Democratic legislators said the tax increase would help close a 2003 budget gap that could reach $5.3 billion by collecting between $200 million and $240 million in extra revenue. They also agreed with testimony the tax would prompt more than 50,000 current smokers to quit, which Republicans questioned, the Bergen (N.J.) Record reported.

    A pack of cigarettes now costs about $4.

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