HOB BRYAN: Tax other tobacco products more heavily, too

We may have just thrown the tobacco companies into the briar patch. Although it was too little and too late, Mississippi has finally increased taxes on cigarettes. However, taxes remain the same on cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff, and other tobacco products – precisely the items tobacco companies are pushing.
Thanks to efforts by anti-smoking activists, cigarettes have lost much of their appeal. They no longer have the image of being cool, sophisticated, elegant. Now with the tax increase, the cost of cigarettes is so high at least some people will be discouraged from smoking so much, or from starting in the first place.
For some reason, cigars seem to be gaining in popularity. Cigar bars have sprouted up, and there’s a magazine which features famous cigar smokers. Smoking cigars has the allure of being hip, trendy – all those thing which used to be associated with cigarettes.
The shift to that stuff you put in your mouth is even worse. (I can’t keep up with the distinction among wet snuff and dried snuff and chewing tobacco, and I really don’t care to learn.) Tobacco companies market “pouches” of the stuff. It comes in all sorts of flavors, and now there are tobacco mints that dissolve in your mouth.
The association of these products with athletics is particularly troubling. Professional athletes who use these products must know they are encouraging their young admirers to do the same. I’ve been told of some high school coaches and little league coaches who dip and chew in front of their players at times they would never light up. Of course, their young charges admire them and tend to follow their examples.
The next time you’re at a place where tobacco products are sold, notice the prices of cigarettes and these other products. It’s disturbing to see how cheap it is to buy some tobacco to put in your mouth, and that low price surely encourages increased usage.
It’s puzzling that so many health advocacy groups have been so quiet about this issue. I asked the head of one group about these products, and he told me he was proud of the success his group was having. (I assume he was proud the cigarette tax was being discussed, since it hadn’t passed at that point.)
When the cigarette tax increase was being considered in the state senate, I offered amendments to increase the prices of other tobacco products. They failed, and I didn’t hear a whimper from any organized group. No such increase passed the House, which has traditionally supported a cigarette tax increase.
It’s not too late to act. The legislature is still in session. We should increase taxes on cigars and these other products and avoid an unfortunate increase in their sales.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, represents the 7th District in the Legislature, where he is chairman of the Senate Public Health Committee. Contact him at wendellbryan@gmail.com.

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