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CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- Smoking will get a lot more expensive in Wyoming if a bill endorsed by a legislative committee becomes law.
The proposal would jack up the state's excise tax on cigarettes from 12 cents to 60 cents per pack. The additional revenue would help cover state health care costs, including a health insurance program for children, according to the Rocky Mountain News.
The Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee approved the bill 11-1. It still must go before the full legislature, which meets in January. Besides raising more money, the goal of the tax would be to discourage minors from buying cigarettes. "Smoking is an addictive process; nicotine is an addictive drug," said committee member Rep. George McMurtrey (R-Gillette). "I'm all for raising the tax and raising it a lot."
Dissenting was Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander), who said Americans have a right to the pursuit of happiness, even if that includes smoking. "I think that people smoke because they like to smoke, believe it or not, and they derive some benefit that we can't understand," he said. "I just can't get on this bandwagon because we're being way too paternalistic about this."
Also opposing the bill was lobbyist Lynn Birleffi, who spoke to the committee on behalf of the Wyoming Retail Merchants Association. Birleffi said the tax would place an unfair burden on retailers, especially those on highways near neighboring states. "It's a legal product that they sell in their stores," she said.
Birleffi pointed out that Wyoming's tax on cigarettes is already slightly higher than cigarette taxes in Colorado and Montana. As with the existing tax, one-third of the revenue from the higher tax would be distributed to cities, towns and counties, based on the number of cigarettes sold in those jurisdictions, the report said.