Proposed cigarette tax hike stirs debate between supporters, critics

Proposed cigarette tax hike stirs debate between supporters, critics

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana smokers could once again be forced to help close a massive state deficit.

Dozens of people at the Capitol Wednesday wrote their names in opposition to raising the state cigarette tax for a second year in a row.

The tax on a pack of cigarettes was increased by 50 cents at the conclusion of last year's Legislative Session.

"I feel that's enough.  Adult tobacco users already pay their fair share of taxes," former state senator and convenience store owner Fred Hoyt said to lawmakers Wednesday.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and three state representatives, Walt Leger of New Orleans; Frank Hoffman of Monroe; and Kenny Cox of Natchitoches, want to put an additional 22-cent tax on a pack cigarettes.

"It's not a drastic change as it relates to other states," said Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.

The cost of $1.08 per pack would still be lower than the tax on cigarettes in Arkansas and Texas, and supporters say it will help cut healthcare costs.

The tax proposal is attracting support from local parents of disabled children. Angela Lorio relies on the state to pay healthcare costs for her son, John Paul.

Without raising new money, critical services for John Paul and hundreds of other children could disappear.

"This is a matter of life and death," said Lorio. "I am begging you to vote with your conscience. Are you going to listen to big business or are you going to think of our kids?"

Supporters said the state needs to raise money quickly to close the $900 million deficit, but opponents said the cigarette tax was raised just a year ago.

"Don't raise the taxes on a small percent of the population again, please," pleaded former state Sen. Hoyt, D-Abbeville.

Hoyt also spoke in opposition to raising the cigarette tax last year.

Last year's tax hike resulted in over $100 million to put toward a $1.8 billion deficit. Health officials say due to record cigarette sales.

However, they also say more Louisiana people than ever are quitting smoking, including former Bogalusa representative and lifelong smoker, Harold Ritchie. He carried the tax hike last year.

Lawmakers said  raising the cigarette tax would bring in an immediate $16 or $20 million, depending on whether it goes into effect March 1 or April 1.

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