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    States Mull Tobacco Legislation

    Three states -- Massachusetts, Kentucky and Virginia -- have legislation to tax or regulate cigarettes.

    NEW YORK -- There is a number of proposals in various states' legislatures concerning tobacco taxes and regulation, according to published reports. In Massachusetts, legislators are considering a raise to the state's cigarette tax to fund healthcare, while Kentucky legislators proposed a bill to triple the state cigarette tax and Virginia passed a public smoking ban.

    Massachusetts' Congress leaders, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi and Senate President Therese Murray, are considering raising the state's cigarette tax to fund a healthcare initiative there, the Boston Globe reported.

    Healthcare advocates proposed a $1 per pack tax increase, which would raise an estimated $152 million a year, according to analysis by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, cited by the Globe. However, neither DiMasi nor Murray have endorsed that specific proposal, the report stated.

    "We've made a commitment [to the healthcare initiative], and we have to keep it," Murray told the newspaper, adding "Everything should be on the table for discussion" in how to fund it.

    The state's cigarette tax was raised by 75 cents in 2002, according to the report.

    Any attempt to increase the tax would be strongly opposed by the New England Convenience Store Association, which represents about 1,000 stores in Massachusetts.

    "It's an incentive for our customers to purchase cigarettes over the border [in New Hampshire] or on the Internet," Diana O'Donoghue, the association's executive director, told the newspaper. "Our retail sales will suffer."

    Kentucky

    Meanwhile, in Kentucky, a physician in the Kentucky General Assembly, Democratic Rep. David Watkins of Henderson, Ky., filed a bill to more than triple the state's tax on cigarettes, from 30 cents to $1, local television station WTVQ reported.

    Watkins told the station his main motivation is to reduce teen smoking, not support the state budget, and he estimates the 70 cent increase would generate $300 million annually, the report stated.

    "I want to significantly reduce our young people from getting addicted to nicotine," Watkins, a 34-year family physician, told the station. He added he was assured by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear that the leader would not veto a tobacco tax hike if it passed the legislature.

    However, Beshear has voiced opposition to any tax increases, along with Senate and House Republican leaders, according to the station.

    "We're with the governor on this one," Senate President David Williams (R.-Burkesville), told the station. "He doesn't want the tax and we don't want the tax either."

    The tobacco tax was increased last increased three years ago from 3 to 30 cents, according to the report. At that time, the Kentucky Farm Bureau did not voice opposition to the move, however, this recent legislation may be different, the report stated.

    "We just think it's a regressive tax on the folks and it's going to decrease the tobacco being sold here in Kentucky," Mark Haney, chairman of the Kentucky Farm Bureau's policy arm, told the station.

    Virginia

    In other tobacco legislation news, after several failed attempts at passing a smoking ban, Democrats in Virginia, including Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, have made it a key part of their agenda this year, the Washington Post reported.

    Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) has voiced his support of an antismoking bill, the report stated.

    "People's ability and rights to smoke, their civil rights stop at my nose," he stated at a meeting last week. "They don't have a right to intrude on my space, and the argument of, 'Well then, go elsewhere,' isn't going to cut it this time."

    However, local groups argue that tobacco is an important part of the local economy.

    "Let's face it, tobacco has paid a lot of bills and touched a lot of lives in southern Virginia," Frank Malone, executive director of the Tobacco Farming History Museum in Mecklenburg County, told the Post. "It built the community, and it created jobs for people. You learn not to preach too hard against what makes you money."

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