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A Tax worth Supporting

Taxes have at least two purchases. The first, and the one we usually think about, is to raise revenue. The second though, can be just as important – a way to change behavior. People will sometimes alter their actions to avoid paying the tax.

Legislation floated in the Cheyenne would have both objectives as goals. According to the Star Tribune, State Rep Gerald Gay, is the principle sponsor of a bill that would up the per-pack cigarette tax to $1.60, a $1 increase. This is expected to raise more than $22 million annually for the state, a much needed bump to our coffers.

The increase is at least partially justified by our estimated $136 million in health care costs related to smoking (Star-Trib), but should also reduce the number of Wyoming smokers because of the price increase. Tobacco-Free Kids publishes the estimate that every 10% real increase in the cost of tobacco products reduces use by 3 to 5 percent. Significantly, the price hike lowers consumption more in lower age groups (11 to 17 years old), precisely the group we’d like to target most.

Higher prices also reduce use of smokeless tobacco products, something of particular concern here in Wyoming, where the use of “dip” and “chew” are so prevalent. In 2009, the CDC ranked Wyoming as having the highest use per capita of smokeless tobacco and more recent reports have us still in the top three of all states.

Whether the measure has any real chance of passing remains to be seen, but in an era where legislators are scrambling to replace lost revenues, a tax that adds to state coffers while simultaneously improving health for Wyoming citizens, ought to be popular.

The arguments against a tax increase on tobacco products include an increase in cross-border smuggling from states with lower taxes and a rise in counterfeiting or off-the-books sales.

Mike Moser, executive director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association is quoted in the Star Tribune: “If you have a state like Idaho that’s tax is 57 cents a pack, and Wyoming will go to ($1.60), that’s about $6 less per carton,” he said. “So people start going to the reservation. They start going online. They go to other places.”

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