Louisiana legislators voted overwhelmingly Thursday afternoon to raise the tax on cigarettes by 50 cents.
It was one of the sticking points in the budget negotiations between the House and the Senate.
State Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, said, “I think that it was the best that could be done, moving forward at this time.”
The legislation now goes to Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The 50-cent increase would give Louisiana an 86-cent cigarette tax, the country’s 35th highest rate. Louisiana currently has a 36-cent cigarette tax, the country’s third lowest.
Earlier in the session the House had approved adding 32 cents to the existing 36-cent tax. But looking for additional revenues, the Senate amended House Bill 119 to a 72 cent tax, which the House rejected.
The House voted 75 to 29 to accept the compromise of 50 cents. The state Senate agreed to the tax increase on a 31 to 4 vote with no discussion.
The negotiated plan would also impose a tax of 5-cents per milliliter on electronic cigarettes and vapor products.
In all the tobacco tax increases would raise $108 million next year.
Democratic Rep. Harold Ritchie, a Bogalusa funeral home director who has smoked for a half century, urged the House to concur with the negotiated amount.
“$108 million will be used to draw down federal (Medicaid) matching funds that could be worth $300 million,” he said.
Ritchie said the revenues help fill a health care hole in the state budget. “When we pass this and increase the tax we are saving lives,” said Ritchie.
But state Rep. James Armes, D-Leesville, said it is not right to single out smokers for taxation.
“If you are going to tax somebody we ought to tax everybody. That goes for you too governor,” he said as Jindal watched proceedings.
“It’s not right for us to sit here and tax one person in society just because they want to smoke,” said Armes.
Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, took the opposite position. “I don’t think I can go back home without doing something to help health care,” Norton said.
Invest in a Healthy Louisiana coalition, which had pushed for increasing the tax above $1 per pack, voiced disappointment that legislators refused to increase the cigarette tax by more than a $1 a pack. The group argued that statistics show a dramatic decrease in the number of smokers and better healthcare in Louisiana.
“Today the Legislature chose to stand with Big Tobacco against the interests of Louisiana’s children,” T. Bradley Keith, campaign director for the group, said in a prepared statement.
Invest in a Healthy Campaign members include the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, The Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living and Louisiana Cancer Prevention and Control Programs.