Groups Lobby for Cigarette Tax Increase in Vermont

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- Anti-tobacco lobbyists in Vermont are pushing the legislature to increase the state’s cigarette tax. The per-pack tax now stands at $2.24 but the group is asking for a $1 hike. The push comes in response to Gov. Peter Shumlin proposed $2.1-million cut in the state’s tobacco control efforts.

According to the Associated Press, the move is three-pronged. The anti-tobacco lobbyists hope the increase would offset budget cuts to anti-tobacco efforts, raise more money for the state and act as a deterrent to smoke.

Joining in the effort are the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Vermont, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association and the Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council. They contend the proposed increase would raise $10.2 million in new revenue for the state and save millions in healthcare costs, according to the news outlet.

"It is a win-win for everyone," said Tina Zuk, coordinator for Coalition for a Tobacco Free Vermont. "The primary role of the tax is not the revenue, although I think to some that sweetens the deal. Where we’re going is that from a public health perspective, it’s the single best way to get youths not to smoke and to get smokers to quit."

Currently, cigarettes sell for approximately $6.50 a pack in the state. But not all are for an increased levy. The Vermont Grocers’ Association argues that any increase would push smokers to buy cigarettes elsewhere. "No one wants to see increase smoking," said Jim Harrison, president. "We want to see decreases. However, just changing the tax rate, it has other unintended consequences. We’ve seen it time and time again, especially when small geographic states like Vermont increase the rate. It shifts sales to neighboring states, the Internet, Indian reservations."

"We think we’ve decreased [smoking] but we really haven’t, and what we really ended up doing is losing commerce in Vermont, and some of that tax revenue," he added.

And, according to the Associated Press, state Agency of Human Services Secretary Doug Racine agrees. He said that Vermont has collected about $4.9 million more in cigarette tax revenue this fiscal year. The increase is due in part to New Yorkers coming to the state to buy cigarettes. The state cigarette tax in New York is more than $4 per pack.

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