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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Smoking can cause serious health problems, but it could also help the state solve its fiscal problem, according to Pennsylvania State Gov. Mark Schweiker.
The Republican governor introduced a proposal to increase the state's cigarette tax to $1 per pack, more than triple the 31 cents paid to the state for every pack sold, according to the Times (Pa.) Leader.
Taking into account the state sales tax and likely cost increases from manufacturers and distributors, Schweiker's plan could increase the cost of a pack by more than $1, said a local retailer whose prices range from $2 to $4 per pack.
Schweiker estimated the increase would produce $617 million for the state's general fund, which is facing a $1.2 billion deficit. But he said his main goal in proposing the increase is curbing youth smoking.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates the medical effects related to smoking cost Pennsylvania $2.9 billion and 23,000 deaths each year, the report said.
The increase likely will be decided in budget negotiations, with a June 30 deadline for passing a final version. Pennsylvania last increased its cigarette tax (from 18 to 31 cents) in 1991, when the state was mired in a recession.
Schweiker also proposed a 40 percent tax on the wholesale cost of chewing tobacco, which he said would produce an estimated $11.5 million in taxes. Pennsylvania is one of only four states that don't tax pipe or chewing tobacco or cigars, the report said.