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Ole Miss students react to proposed state tax increase on cigarettes

By Sarah Henderson

Mississippi lawmakers are working to discourage children and adults from continuing, or starting, the unhealthy habit of smoking by proposing an increased tax on cigarettes.

Legislators recently drafted five bills to propose the tax increase, but all five bills had failed as of Feb. 21. One of those bills, S.B. 2701, looked to increase cigarette taxes and relocate the profit towards the state’s Medicaid costs.

However, Mississippians in favor of a tax increase aren’t ready to throw in the towel just yet.

A bond bill, S.B. 3048, still remains and has the potential to be revised to increase cigarette taxes from the current 68 cents per pack to $1.50 per pack in late March. The bill would have to go before the house for further consideration, but could be a strong contender in the battle against cigarette use.

The American Heart Association reports that 22.7 percent of adults and 19.2 percent of high school students in Mississippi use cigarettes regularly, totaling $10.4 million dollars spent on cigarettes in the state each year.

In Mississippi alone, the American Heart Association reports that over 4,000 adults die each year from cigarette use, and around 550 non-smokers die from secondhand smoke.

An estimated $719 million is spent on health care costs directly caused by cigarettes each year.

“Tragically, Mississippi is one of the states that’s leading the nation in rates of cancer and other tobacco-related diseases,” Kimberly Hughes, the Mississippi Government Relations Director for the American Cancer Society said.

“It is no coincidence that while we experience more suffering, higher health costs, and more people losing their lives, our cigarettes are among the cheapest in the country. Our legislators have a proven tool at their fingertips that will cause more adults to quit and fewer kids to ever start the deadly habit and we strongly urge them to utilize it,” Hughes said.

In 2009, cigarette sales declined by 22.8 percent across the state following a 50 cent tax increase. Several other states have raised their cigarette taxes, and have successfully deterred their residents from purchasing cigarettes.

In 2015, Louisiana raised its cigarette tax by 50 cents and saw a nearly 30 percent decrease in cigarette sales. Similarly, Massachusetts raised its tax by $1.00 in 2013 and decreased its cigarette sales by 16.8 percent.

Joel McKay, a University of Mississippi student and regular smoker, said that a tax increase would be an effective way to discourage the purchase of cigarettes.

“I spend too much on cigarettes as it is,” McKay said. “A tax increase would definitely cause me to buy less of them, and possibly make me quit altogether.”

McKay pays around six dollars for a pack of cigarettes now and said he would stop purchasing them if the price went up to seven dollars.

Mississippi resident and smoker, Alex Weadock sets his cigarette price limit a little higher than McKay.

“I would still buy them for sure,” he 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 proposed 82 cent tax increase would still have Mississippi sitting below the national average of $1.71 in taxes per pack.

Katherine Bryant, the American Heart Association Senior Director of Government Relations and Advocacy in Mississippi said that if cigarette taxes are increased in the state 16.9 percent of teenage smokers would quit, as well as 26,000 adults.

Altogether, Mississippi citizens would save $1.01 billion in long-term health care costs.

Hayley Rank, a University of Mississippi nursing student, is in support of a tax increase. “I think it would for sure discourage people from smoking, and limit the amount of cigarettes that they are able to buy,” she said. “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.”

As a medical student, Rank realizes the adverse effects that nicotine and tobacco have on the body, and appreciates Mississippi lawmakers’ efforts to keep citizens healthy.

Hughes said that if Mississippi lawmakers follow through with the tax increase, the state is projected to generate $166.8 million in new revenue.