Triple Threat

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Triple Threat

PIERRE, S.D. -- The South Dakota legislature will be asked to raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes sold in the state by as much as triple the current tax, the coordinator for a coalition of anti-smoking groups said.

"I know there'll be a proposal to raise it to $1 a pack, and we've pretty much settled on a bottom line of a 30-cent-a-pack increase," said Kitty Kinsman, a lobbyist for Tobacco-Free Kids Network and other anti-smoking groups.

With the state already wrestling with a budget deficit, the use of tobacco adds to government costs, according to the Aberdeen (S.D.) News. Two state lawmakers, who backed an unsuccessful cigarette-tax increase last year, said they would support the new initiative. Rep. Duane Sutton (R-Aberdeen) said he is prepared to support tripling the current 33-cent tax on cigarettes. "That would bring it right about to $1, and to me, that's the place to start," he said. "It's easier to amend down if necessary than to try to go up."

More than 22 percent of South Dakotans smoke and Sutton said his reason for supporting the tax increase is to make it as unpleasant as possible for people to continue doing it. He said the tax increase would discourage cigarette use by young people and first-time smokers. It would also help raise money for the state budget that is estimated to contain a more than $30 million shortfall in revenue.

But not everyone favors the increase. Sen. Jerry Apa ( R-Lead) said the anti-smoking lobby is simply trying to bring about social change through the revenue system. "I'd be against that increase," he said. ''If you increase the tax too far, people will be buying cigarettes over the Internet and finding other ways to get around the tax."

Some residents already go across the border to Wyoming where the state tax on cigarettes is only 12 cents a pack. "They'll be bringing back cases of cigarettes," Apa said.

And that concerns Jerry Wheeler, executive director of the South Dakota Retailers Association. The group has yet to take a position on the proposed tax increase. "I guess we'd have two questions to look at: Where do we stand in comparison with border states, and what do we need the revenue for? What would they do with it?" he said. "Is it to curtail smoking? If they raise it too high, do people just go to Wyoming or Montana or across the other borders?"

Apa said he doubts the tax increase will prompt many smokers to quit. "I don't think it's price that drives them to stop," he said. "If people really decided to stop, it's for health reasons or choices."