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CHARLESTON, W. Va. -- West Virginia has joined a growing number of states that are considering raising taxes on cigarettes. State legislators are reviewing a plan that would increase the levy $1 per pack and also increase taxes on other tobacco products.
According to WSAZ, lawmakers contend that healthcare costs related to smoking are too high and the increased tax may be a way to scale back those costs. However, smokers and tobacco retailers alike feel they tobacco users should not be singled out.
"Adding a tax of $1 per pack is just outrageous. It is really ridiculous," Vicki Dean, manager of Tobacco Warehouse in Cross Lanes, told the news channel. The current levy stands at 55 cents per pack.
Legislators are not just zeroing in on cigarettes. Under discussion is also a proposal that would see the tax on other tobacco products jump from 7 percent of wholesale price of each item to 50 percent of that price, as reported by WSAZ.
The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy released a report on the tax issue last week. In it researchers estimated that more than 12,000 people would stop smoking if these taxes go into effect. In addition, the state would raise more than $600 million in revenue over five years. However, proponents for the tax increase maintain that the issue is about more than money. "We have a particularly difficult problem in West Virginia. We have the highest rate in the nation, the highest rate of smoking among pregnant women," Renate Pore, one of the authors of the report, told WSAZ.
In its current form, the bill designates half the money raised from this tax increase (up to $60 million) would go to public health -- including $27 million for the implementation of comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programming.
However, an increase is not a foregone conclusion. A spokesperson for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told WSAZ that the governor is not supporting tax increases, setting up a possible veto.