Metro Council taking up smoking ban for Baton Rouge bars, casinos but will it to pass? _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- A bar patrons' lighter and cigarettes sit on the bar, Wednesday, January 27, 2016 at Phil Brady's Bar & Grill on Government Street in Baton Rouge, La.

Is raising the cigarette tax to fund the state's budget deficit off-limits to Louisiana legislators?

If so, why? Has tobacco become Louisiana's "sacred cow"? 

A recent Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals report stated that 6,200 adults die each year in Louisiana from the harmful effects of cigarette smoking. Another 750 will die from exposure to secondhand smoke. The American Lung Association's "State of Tobacco Control 2017" report, released in January 2017, confirmed that tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in Louisiana — and it's costing the state billions annually in healthcare.

Yet, the tax on a pack of smokes in Louisiana remains well below the national average. While our elected officials have done wonders to keep the price of cigarette addiction as low as possible, the cost to attend a public college or university has risen significantly for 51,000 students and their families in Spring semester 2017. Drop-outs, massive student-debt and "brain-drain" are inevitable.

Here's a solution that will benefit students, families, higher education and the overwhelming majority of Louisiana residents (including smokers): Raise the cigarette tax (and only the cigarette tax) of the second least-healthy state in the U.S. (Mississippi now stakes claim to the No. 1 honor) to at least the national average ($1.61).This will save lives and provide substantial revenue to spare cuts to higher education and fund the TOPS scholarship program.

Jim Pittman