Smokers would pay 68 cents more per pack under a bill passed by the House Ways and Means Committee Monday morning.

The measure, HB 119, after being approved 11-5, now goes to the House floor for consideration. The state Legislature is trying to raise revenue to close a projected $1.6B budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

State Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, who has been smoking for more than 50 years, sought a $1.18 per pack increase to put Louisiana’s rate at the national average. But state Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, the committee chairman, offered the lower 68-cent tax increase.

Ritchie said he didn’t like the lower amount but added that he didn’t want to oppose an amendment offered by the committee chairman. Once Ritchie signaled his acceptance, the amendment to approve the 68-cent tax increase passed without dissent.

Louisiana currently has the third lowest cigarette tax rate of 36 cents per pack. The 68-cent increase would give Louisiana the same tax rate as neighboring Mississippi.

A parade of anti-tobacco advocates testified in favor of the $1.18 per pack increase.

“Raising the tobacco tax reduces tobacco consumption,” said B. Jay Brooks Jr., a cancer doctor at Ochsner Health Center in Baton Rouge.

“Seventy percent of people who smoke in the US try to quit,” said Stephen Kantrow, a cancer doctor at the LSU Health Sciences Center. “About 10 percent are successful. It’s very difficult to end the addiction. 80 percent start smoking before 18. Cigarette smoking is a childhood addition that they spend the rest of their lives trying to end.”

Fred Hoyt, who represents convenience stores, said the $1.18 per pack increase would cost jobs. He said that 30 percent of a convenience stores’ income generally comes from tobacco sales.