CHARLESTON, WV - According to a new poll by the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free West Virginia and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 63 percent of West Virginia voters would favor a $1 per cigarette pack tax hike to help ease the state's budget gap (projected at up to $160 million in fiscal year 2011) and reduce youth smoking, The Charleston Gazette reports.
Members of the coalition said that boosting tobacco taxes is an effective way to prevent kids from smoking and encourage adults to quit. They maintain that a $1 hike would prevent 19,000 West Virginia youth from smoking each year.
"It's a win for health," said Hersha Arnold Brown of the American Cancer Society. "It's a win for our youth. It's a win for the state budget."
The groups maintain that a $1 per pack tax increase would generate an additional $117 million in annual revenue for West Virginia, despite the commensurate decline in tobacco consumption that a tax increase would bring.
West Virginia last raised its cigarette tax in 2003, from 17 cents to 55 cents. Today, the 55-cent tax ranks 44th in the nation.
Opponents of an increase include the West Virginia Wholesalers Association (WVWA), who say a tax increase would hurt businesses and destroy jobs.
"Things are bad enough already," said WVWA executive director John Hodges. "We just try to be as competitive as we can because there's real competition between the states."