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Wisconsin Blowing Smoke

Reeling from a substantial budget cut, anti-tobacco forces are clinging to the hope that lawmakers will restore some funding to the fledgling state Tobacco Control Board, possibly by raising the cigarette tax, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Sen. Judy Robson (D-Beloit) said raising the cigarette tax, now 59 cents per pack, might be the preferred solution, given the state's dire financial straits. Besides providing much-needed funds, she said, it would discourage smoking, especially among teenagers.

Carrie Sullivan of SmokeFree Wisconsin shared Robson's enthusiasm for raising the tax. But Sullivan said the state already had plenty of funds available for prevention efforts, if only lawmakers would stop squandering the tobacco settlement money on other things, the report said.

Sullivan said a survey conducted for SmokeFree Wisconsin showed that only one in four residents favor trading $5.9 billion in tobacco settlement payments over 25 years for $1.3 billion now, a plan that Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum proposed in his budget.
The random poll of 500 residents last week also showed 68 percent of likely voters support raising the cigarette tax of 59 cents per pack by 41 cents to a full $1, according to the report.

David Gundersen, executive director of the Tobacco Control Board, said raising the cigarette tax is an effective deterrent for teen smokers. "Kids are price sensitive," he said. "If [the price] gets too high, they can't afford to smoke."

Tobacco consumption decreased substantially when tobacco companies increased the price of cigarettes by 43 cents after the multistate tobacco settlement, Gundersen added.
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