Forums keep heat on cigarette tax

TUPELO – As state Senate and House negotiators were working to bridge an 11-cent gap in cigarette tax proposals Tuesday, public health advocates were rallying for the increased tax in Tupelo.
Communities for a Clean Bill of Health – a coalition of more than 40 organizations – held a community forum at the Lee County Library on Tuesday to rally local public health advocates.
The group is holding a series of events around Mississippi this week to keep the fire lit under efforts to raise cigarette taxes.
“They’re meeting today, but they still have to vote,” said Katherine Bryant of the American Heart Association. “It’s not a done deal until it’s signed into law.”
The state House voted for a 75-cent cigarette tax. The Senate voted for a 64-cent tax. The current state tax on cigarettes is 18 cents, the fourth lowest in the country.
Although the issue has been discussed for much of this legislative session, it has gained urgency in the last couple of weeks because car tags will get more expensive July 1 unless the state comes up with money to help local governments keep the costs down.
House Public Health Committee Chairman Steve Holland told the forum he never anticipated that the prospect of higher car tags would put a cigarette tax over the top.
While Holland would have rather seen the tax revenue dedicated to public health programs, he’ll take it.
“We don’t need to lose this,” Holland said. “This should have been done five or six years ago.”
Making smoking more expensive and less accessible protects the health of babies in the womb and the crib, reduces problems with asthma and reduces the number of teens who will pick up the habit, said retired Tupelo pediatrician Dr. Bill Hillbun, who represented the American Academy of Pediatrics at the forum.
“We wholeheartedly support raising the tax,” Hillbun said.
Contact Michaela Gibson Morris at (662) 678-1599 or michaela.morris@djournal.com.

 

Michaela Morris/NEMS Daily Journal