Some Mississippi lawmakers are working to discourage children and adults from beginning or continuing to smoke by proposing an increased tax on cigarettes.
Legislators recently drafted five bills to propose the tax increase, but all five failed as of Feb. 21.
Mississippians in favor of a tax increase aren’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. Senate Bill 3048, a bond bill, still remains and has the potential to be revised to increase cigarette taxes from the current 68 cents to at least $1 by late March.
“On cigarettes, the rate of tax shall be Three and Four-tenths Cents (3.4¢) on each cigarette sold with a maximum length of one hundred twenty (120) millimeters; any cigarette in excess of this length shall be taxed as if it were two (2) or more cigarettes,” the bill reads.
The bill has passed through the Senate Finance Committee and would have to go before the House Ways and Means Committee for further consideration, but could be a strong contender in the battle against cigarette use.
Nursing student Hayley Rank said she supports the tax increase and appreciates Mississippi lawmakers’ efforts to keep citizens healthy.
“I really do think the tax increase would stop people from smoking and, at the very least, force those who do smoke to cut back,” she said.
Real estate major Joel McKay said he is a regular smoker and believes that a tax increase would be an effective way to discourage the purchase of cigarettes. McKay pays around $6 for a pack of cigarettes now and said he would stop purchasing them if the price went up to $7.
“I spend too much on cigarettes as it is,” he said. “A tax increase would definitely cause me to buy less of them and possibly make me quit altogether.”
On the other hand, psychology major Alex Weadock said as a smoker, he sets his cigarette price limit a little higher.
“I would still buy them, for sure,” Weadock said. “I think you would see a small decrease in cigarette sales, but nothing dramatic. If the price rose to over $10, I would seriously consider smoking less or even quitting altogether.”
The American Heart Association reports that 22.7 percent of adults and 19.2 percent of high school students in Mississippi smoke cigarettes regularly. This leads to a grand total of $10.4 million dollars spent on cigarettes in the state each year.
At 68 cents, Mississippi has one of the lowest state cigarette taxes. In 2009, Mississippi increased its tax by 50 cents and cigarette sales dropped by 22.8 percent. Several states have raised their cigarette taxes in the past, successfully deterring their residents from purchasing cigarettes.
In 2009, Florida raised its cigarette tax by $1 per pack and saw a 27.4 percent decrease in cigarette sales. Similarly, Massachusetts raised its tax by $1 per pack in 2008 and decreased its cigarette sales by 20.3 percent.
In Mississippi alone, the American Heart Association reports that more than 4,000 adults die each year from cigarette use, and around 550 non-smokers die from secondhand smoke. An estimated $719 million is spent annually on health care costs directly caused by cigarettes.
In an interview with Mississippi Public Broadcasting, Kimberly Hughes, the Mississippi government relations director for the American Cancer Society, explained how a tax increase could be effective. Hughes has played a large role in the possible tax increase and said she urges all adults and teenagers to quit smoking now or to never start.
“The importance of the significant increase is to make that public health impact,” Hughes said.
This article was submitted to The Daily Mississippian from an advanced reporting class.