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Cigarette Tax Hike Off the Table for Now

A bid to raise cigarette taxes in Louisiana by $1.05 per pack has stalled in the House tax committee.
BATON ROUGE, LA (NBC33) -- If passed House Bill 417 would be responsible for hiking up the price of a pack over a dollar. Something those in favor of the bill were happy to see.

"A 10% increase in the price of cigarettes will result in a 3%-5% reduction in overall consumption. It's cheaper to buy cigarettes than to buy food in some communities," explained Tonia Moore with Tobacco Free Living.

"I don't want any of my grand children ever to have enough money in their pockets to buy. And I want you to visualize us, my mother's family, watching her smoke until the day she died," said Amber Stevens, a supporter of the tax. Stevens told lawmakers she watched her mother, a smoker since age 12, die of cancer.

The money raised from the tax would support Medicaid, education campaigns and nursing programs. The idea behind the appropriation of funds from the tax is that smokers pay the tax now to help offset the cost of their healthcare down the line.

"I am looking at the committee and probably 100% of you don't smoke. But 100% of you pay that tax so that I can smoke," said Harold Ritchie, the Democratic Representative who authored the bill. Ritchie himself admits to smoking a pack a day.

Tobacco retailers claim the tax is just bad for business.

"We make a significant amount of money especially on our border stores. that will change dramatically if that tax goes up that high," said Jack Casanova with the Wholesalers Association.

"You're reducing our business by 30%, that is a huge impact, obviously we will lay employees off. Obviously this effects the whole industry. This is just too much," said Jodi Buckner with Lyons Whole Sale in Port Allen.

Representative Ritchie told NBC33 he took the $1.05 tax hike off the table, at least for now because he didn't feel like lawmakers would give him the support he needed to get it through committee.

"I can see passing a bill for a lesser amount but it just won't do as much good. I would like to see a bill get out of committee and get to the floor," said Ritchie.

Representative Katrina Jackson has also authored a tobacco tax bill with the same idea behind it. Allocate funds raised from the tax to healthcare. Jackson's bill would only force a $0.36 per pack hike. Her bill is scheduled for discussion Tuesday.
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