Advocates traveled in the rain from around Louisiana Wednesday to lobby their legislators for higher cigarette taxes.
The Senate Finance Committee is expected to consider House-passed legislation next week that would raise the taxes on a pack of cigarettes by 32 cents. Currently, the state tacks on 36 cents, so if House Bill 119 passes as is, the state tax for a pack of cigarettees would be 68 cents.
But that’s not enough for a coalition of health groups that, because heavy rain, moved their planned rally from the State Capitol steps to a conference room in a nearby Visitor’s Center.
Stasha M. Rhodes of the American Heart Association told the group of about 100 that an increased tax on cigarettes would raise additional revenues to help balance the state budget was lagniappe. The real goal was to price cigarettes high enough that youngsters couldn’t afford them and wouldn’t pickup the addictive habit. If Louisiana’s tax was more than a dollar per pack — like in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas — then statistics show that almost 35,000 people under the age of 18 wouldn’t start smoking, she said.
Louisiana has the seventh highest percentage of smokers compared to the overall population and 4,700 youngsters start smoking each day, according to Invest in a Healthy Louisiana, the umbrella group that organized the rally and day of lobbying.
The coalition includes the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Louisiana Budget Project, The Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living, Louisiana Cancer Prevention and Control Programs and The Rapides Foundation.
Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia tax cigarettes at $1 or more per pack.
If the tax was increased to $1.18 per pack, the state would raise $223 million.
“A 32-cent tobacco tax increase is not enough,” she said.