Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall), along with four of his fellow Democrats, introduced legislation this week to increase the state’s cigarette tax.
“West Virginia has the highest adult smoking rate in the country, 44 percent higher than the national average,” says Kessler. “Sadly, West Virginia is one of the only states in the county that hasn’t seen a reduction in smoking rates in over a decade. Evidence shows increasing the tobacco tax decreases the number of people smoking, especially among adolescents.”
Senate Bill 531 (SB 531) would increase the cigarette tax incrementally by a total of $1 per pack, with a portion of the monies funding substance abuse and workforce development initiatives.
Senator Kessler says at a time when the state is facing a budget shortfall, the tax increase would provide some much needed relief.
“The Governor’s proposed budget calls for cutting $10 million from the State Infrastructure Fund, $3 million from primary care centers, $2 million from free health clinics, and $1 million from other social services such as rape crisis centers,” says Kessler. “While decreasing illness and death in West Virginia by reducing the number of smokers would make the increase worthwhile in its own right, the fact is, it would also help stabilize the state budget. Increasing the tobacco tax would eliminate the need to borrow one penny from the Rainy Day Fund, and as I’ve said before, you can’t cut your way to prosperity.”
Bill sponsors include Senators Corey Palumbo (D-Kanawha), Mike Romano (D-Harrison), Ron Stollings (D-Boone) and John Unger (D-Berkeley).
Senator Kessler also signed on as a co-sponsor to Senate Bill 534. It calls for increasing the tobacco tax by a total of $1 per pack beginning July 1, 2015. SB 531 has been referred to the Committee on Finance.