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    Washington Retailers In A Huff

    Cigarette tax initiative could be a tremendous "burden" for the retail community, official says.

    Proponents of an initiative that would raise Washington's tax on cigarettes to the highest in the nation are misleading voters with the claim that the measure would help low-income families, a spokesman for the state's neighborhood stores said.

    The comment came in response to news that enough signatures were submitted to place the measure on this November's statewide ballot. "If the money spent by the proponents on professional signature gatherers is any indication, the state?s voters will be hammered with a multi-million dollar media blitz telling them to go ahead and raise cigarette taxes to pay for low-income health care" said T.K. Bentler, executive director of the Washington Association of Neighborhood Stores (WANS). The group represents hundreds of convenience store retailers in the state.

    Bentler pointed out that the tax increase would raise retail prices to over $5.00 per pack. "That's a phenomenal burden on families that can least afford it."

    Smokers could quit, he said, but more realistically, there will be a dramatic increase in contraband sales, as people look to avoid state taxes by buying cigarettes in neighboring states or on nearby Indian reservations. "And that hits our retailers hard in lost income."

    Moreover, according to Bentler, only part of the increase mandated by the initiative will go to expanding health care access. "There is a laundry list of funding priorities ahead of health care in this initiative, including water quality, violence reduction and drug enforcement," he said. "Voters might well want to ask themselves if additional taxes on tobacco users is the proper way to fund programs that benefit society as a whole."

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