(KCPW News) A Utah Senate committee voted down a proposal to increase the state’s tobacco tax this morning, but a separate bill remains in play in the House. Republican Senator Allen Christensen’s bill would have increased the tax by $1.30 per pack, making it $2 total. He argued that this is only fair, considering smokers’ health problems are a drain on the health care system.
“It’s not fair for people who make a choice, a health choice, to inflict their costs upon another group of people,” he said. “This is a fee, this is a user fee, the people who use it need to pay more for it. All we’re doing is asking is that they pay a little bit more of their fair share.”
Christensen said health complications associated with smoking, like cancer, heart disease and birth defects, total $700 million in Utah annually, $500 million of which is paid by Medicaid. However, he said his reasons for sponsoring the tobacco tax hike are about saving lives, not money.
A House bill that’s already passed out of committee proposes a $1 per pack increase initially, then would automatically re-set the tax in the future to be slightly above the national average. Peter Moosman with Project 1200, a grassroots anti-smoking group, says he supports any proposal to raise the cigarette tax.
“I personally think that it should be $10 a pack but I know that won’t fly,” said Moosman. “Like was mentioned in the committee, they think $1.30 is too high. So I think that raising it to the national average is an appropriate level as of right now.”
Christensen said he’ll bring his bill back to the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee on Monday for reconsideration. He plans to lower the amount of the tax increase to make it more palatable to lawmakers who voted against his bill this time.