Gov. Bobby Jindal moved late Monday to lower Louisiana’s cigarette tax though he once offered higher taxes as a way to pay for smokers’ health-care needs.
Jindal vetoed legislation that would renew 4 cents of the 36-cent state sales tax on a pack of cigarettes. The 4 cents expires June 30, 2012.
For copies of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s article on smoking, go to http://www.2theadvocate.com/blogs/politicsblog
House Bill 591, which authorized the tax renewal, was approved by 70 representatives and 29 senators, enough to overturn Jindal’s veto. But several members of the state House who voted for the tax renewal now say they would support the governor.
The legislation renewing the 4-cent state cigarette tax would dedicate $12 million a year to health care. The governor has characterized the renewal as a tax increase. His veto would lower cigarette prices in Louisiana.
Jindal wrote in his veto message that he opposed “all attempts to raise taxes.”
But in a 1997 article for the Louisiana State Medical Society’s journal, Jindal wrote: “Society must recover those costs which could have been avoided had the individual not chosen the risky behavior only to prevent others from having to bear the costs.”
Jindal offered higher sales taxes on cigarettes or premiums as a way to recover those costs.
At the time Jindal wrote the article, he was secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals.
Jindal declined comment Monday on his writing. His spokesman, Kyle Plotkin, disagreed that the article called for higher taxes.
Copies of the article circulated at the State Capitol on Monday ahead of the governor’s veto.
Supporters of the renewal accused the governor of changing his stance on an issue that has ignited in controversy this session.
“The governor has obviously flip-flopped on this issue. The fact remains — as he said himself — that raising the price of cigarettes prevents people, especially young people, from smoking,” said Andrew Muhl, government relations director for the American Cancer Society in Louisiana.
State Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa and sponsor of HB591, said he is working to gather support to overturn the governor’s veto of the legislation.
It would take 70 votes in the House and 26 votes in the Senate to override the governor’s veto. Such an override has only happened twice in modern Louisiana history.
Jindal focused on the health-care costs of smoking 14 years ago in his article for the Louisiana State Medical Society. He cited an analysis that smoking leads to billions of dollars in health-care expenses.
The future governor highlighted smoking’s contribution to preventable deaths as well as the fact that “raising the tax would also reduce the incidence of smoking.”
Jindal said society must balance smokers’ welfare with nonsmokers’ rights.
“One solution is to utilize prospective rather than retributive payments for smokers, e.g., higher sales taxes or premiums, rather than decreased access to health care services … Higher taxes or premiums force individuals to provide for their future health care needs,” Jindal wrote.
Other statements in the article:
- “Society must prevent smokers from imposing the cost of their habits on others without denying them the treatment they require.”
- Little of the money raised through tobacco taxes is spent on smoking-related diseases.
- “Reducing cigarette consumption would dramatically improve Americans’ health status and lower expenditures.”
Jindal concluded his 10-page article with the story of Harry Elphick, a British man ordered to “quit his twenty-five-cigarette-per-day habit” before undergoing bypass surgery.
Elphick quit and died a week before surgery, he said.
“Before risk-takers complain about having to pay for the extra costs they are incurring, they should consider the alternatives being proposed,” Jindal said, using Elphick’s story as an example of one of those alternatives.
Ritchie said after reading the article Monday that Jindal seemed to realize that smoking is a real health-care issue.
“It certainly appears he’s changed his view. I would hate to say he didn’t recall writing the article,” he said.