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Groups Push Tobacco Tax for Wyoming Health and Revenue

Each year, studies show, 300 kids in Wyoming start smoking. At current rates, 12,000 kids in the state alive today are expected to die prematurely from a tobacco-related illness. (Vborodinova/Pixabay)
Each year, studies show, 300 kids in Wyoming start smoking. At current rates, 12,000 kids in the state alive today are expected to die prematurely from a tobacco-related illness. (Vborodinova/Pixabay)
February 14, 2018

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Volunteers with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network gathered at the state Capitol on Tuesday to urge lawmakers to pass House Bill 43, which would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.

Jason Mincer, the group's Wyoming government relations director, said bringing the total tax up to $1.60 would put Wyoming in line with other western states. As Wyoming continues to face budget shortfalls, he said, the new tax would add almost $22 million in new dollars to the state's coffers annually.

"Wyoming has one of the highest tobacco-use rates in the nation right now," he said. "If we increase the tax, 2,400 kids in Wyoming would not become lifetime adult smokers, and another 2,800 adults would quit smoking."

According to his group's projections, Mincer said, Wyoming also would save more than $100 million in long-term health-care costs associated with smoking cigarettes.

The state Legislature's Revenue Committee is expected to introduce HB 43 this week.

Critics have argued that raising taxes would harm local businesses and could drive smokers to spend their money across state lines to avoid the tax. However, Mincer said most Wyoming residents would have to drive pretty far to get cheaper smokes, and argued that states with higher tobacco taxes don't see people leaving the state. Instead, they see smoking rates drop.

Mincer said the $1 price point is important because it makes it harder for tobacco companies to drop their wholesale prices or to give out enough coupons to customers.

"The piece that works best about tobacco taxes is the sticker shock when people get to the register," he said. "We're trying to keep this bill at $1 or higher because we know that's the threshold of where the tobacco industry has less success in terms of adjusting those prices."

Each year, 800 people in Wyoming die from tobacco use, and 300 kids decide to start smoking. Mincer said he hopes lawmakers will use what he believes is a proven tool to reduce the toll of tobacco in Wyoming.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY