(KCPW News) House lawmakers approved a bill raising the state tobacco tax to $1.31 per pack of cigarettes yesterday, even though a similar bill failed to pass out of a Senate committee. Members of the House Health and Human Services committee discussed what the state's tax policy should be, and whether a small portion of the population should be subject to tax increases in a recession. But Bill Sponsor Representative Paul Ray argued that tobacco taxes are unique.
"It was interesting to hear from the taxpayers association that we should broaden the base and lower the rate and that just shows how different the tobacco tax is versus any other tax. You broaden the base, you are going to expand the cost to the state of Utah by hundreds of millions of dollars," Ray said.
The committee discussed whether this would drive Utahns to buy cigarettes in other states, which Ray admitted would happen for a while, but also argued it would cause more than 11,000 people to quit.
Other proponents argued that people who buy cigarettes from Indian reservations are still required to pay the tax unless they're members of the tribe. Representative Stephen Sandstrom was the only lawmaker who voted against the bill.
"I do not like smoking, I'm no friend of tobacco. If I could pass a law to ban cigarette smoking today I would. For me it's philosophical because I think using tax policy to try and change behavior I do not agree with. To me it's just kind of slippery slopes," Sandstrom said.
The bill raises Utah's tax to one cent above the national average, and to avoid passing a bill every year, Ray added in an automatic yearly adjustment to one cent above the national average. The tax is expected to bring in $44 million dollars of revenue each year.