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Idaho Legislature Looks at Tobacco Tax Increase Today

March 12, 2012

BOISE, Idaho - A long-rumored bill to boost the state tobacco tax gets a print hearing today at the Idaho Legislature. The bill's stated goal isn't to increase state revenue, but to keep kids from ever picking up the smoking habit.

Heidi Low, state director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, says the tobacco tax is the most cost-effective measure to prevent smoking. The tax increase would be $1.25 cents per pack, she says.

"In the experience of state after state after state, when you significantly increase the price of cigarettes, you decrease youth ever beginning to smoke."

A new report from the U.S. Surgeon General says smoking has become a "pediatric epidemic." Low says the percentage of Idaho high school students who have tried cigarettes is about 40 percent, and about 10 percent say they smoked their first whole cigarette before age 13. She predicts Idaho could expect up to a 20 percent decrease in youth smoking if the bill is approved.

Low admits there has been strong resistance in the Legislature to raising any taxes to boost state revenue, so this bill makes it clear that most of the money generated would go toward covering tobacco-related health care costs. She says those costs top $80 million in Medicaid in Idaho every year.

Another portion of the revenue would be used to help smokers quit, she says.

"Addicted smokers have a stronger addition to tobacco than users of even cocaine."

More than 20 organizations interested in children and health are backing the bill, Low adds. The print hearing is in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, which convenes at 9 a.m. in the Statehouse.

More statistics concerning tobacco taxes and youth smoking are available from Idaho Kids Count at http://bit.ly/z5Nu8E. The Surgeon General's report is at http://1.usa.gov/yktD1M.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID