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    South Carolina Cigarette Tax Imminent

    While an amount and the recipient of funds are not yet known, legislators on both sides agree an excise tax hike is on the agenda for 2009.

    COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The days of South Carolina having the lowest cigarette excise tax on cigarettes -- at seven cents per pack -- may be numbered, as several state representatives and senators said during a recent press conference that a tax increase is likely for 2009, the Anderson Independent-Mail reported.

    Leaders from both chambers and both major parties told reporters they are eager to implement an additional tax on cigarettes; however, they remain split on how to spend the expected revenue. Some say the money should go toward health care, while others want the revenue to offset current taxes, or not increase the state government’s financial commitments, according to the report.

    Proponents of using the new tax revenue for health care-related purposes understand the revenue totals will dwindle over time as people stop smoking, said House Minority Leader Rep. Harry Ott, adding any Medicaid support would come from a fund that collected taxes in the preceding year.

    "Is it better to never have had health care than lose access to it sometime in the imaginary future?" Ott asked during the conference.

    Republican representatives Dan Cooper and Brian White argued the twin goals of raising money and trying to cut off the source of the money contradict one another.

    "They want to tax it to ban it, and at the same time rely on the money for health care," White said. "Do you want people to quit smoking, or do you want a source of funding?"

    Cooper added cigarette laws could open the door for obesity laws, since both would involve health hazards. New York state, which has one of the highest cigarette excise taxes in the U.S., at $2.75 per pack, recently proposed an obesity tax on things such as carbonated beverages. To see more on that topic, click here.

    None of the legislators at the event committed to an amount for a tax increase, though House Majority Leader Rep. Kenny Bingham said an increase of 50 cents per pack seems to be a number with some consensus. Ott said he supports a 50-cent increase.

    White prefiled a bill that would raise the cigarette tax by 25 cents, but said he would not support an increase greater than 30 cents, because South Carolina should remain competitive among Southeastern states, according to the report.

    Georgia and North Carolina have cigarette taxes of 37 cents and 35 cents, respectively, the report stated.

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