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A Taxing Week for WA Smokers

April 3, 2009

Olympia, WA - On the heels of a 62-cent-per-pack federal tobacco tax hike that went into effect Wednesday, the Washington Legislature might raise it another dollar. The coalition suggesting the increase says it would raise more than enough money to cover smoking cessation and prevention programs, without touching the General Fund.

Dr. Chris Covert-Bowlds, a family physician at the Interfaith Community Health Center in Ferndale, thinks the idea makes sense.

"Most smokers don’t want to be smoking, and when it goes specifically to the programs to help them quit, most people can see it as a very reasonable thing. I look at it as kind-of a user fee, so that the smokers are paying more of their own fair share."

Dr. Covert-Bowlds, who treats low-income patients in Ferndale, doesn’t think this week’s federal tobacco tax hike jeopardizes the state’s chances of raising more revenue. He says people are tired of paying higher healthcare costs to cover tobacco-related illnesses.

"It’s time that every tobacco user in Washington has good access to the best help quitting smoking, and this would put the money directly into helping people quit smoking, not starting, and early detection for treatable cancers to prevent suffering."

Washington already has one of the highest state cigarette taxes, at just over $2 a pack. Opponents of tobacco tax hikes point out that poor people make up the majority of smokers, and say charging them more puts too much burden on a single group.

The federal tax, which now totals $1 per pack, is expected to prompt one million people to quit smoking, although 44 million still do. On Thursday in Congress, the House also voted to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate, but not ban tobacco products. That bill now goes to the Senate.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA