Rekindled hopes to tax snuff and chew

    The opportunity for some Democratic lawmakers is too good to pass up; the Pennsylvania budget negotiations have provided the chance to tax more tobacco products in the name of balancing the budget.

    The opportunity for some Democratic lawmakers is too good to pass up; the Pennsylvania budget negotiations have provided the chance to tax more tobacco products in the name of balancing the budget.
    (Photo:http://www.flickr.com/photos/doctorow/ / CC BY-SA 2.0)

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    [audio:091002tetax.mp3]

    Some Democratic lawmakers want to extend Pennsylvania’s tobacco tax to include cigars and smokeless products. Allegheny County Democrat Dan Frankel says those products are a gateway to cigarettes. He wants the new tax to discourage youth from taking up the tobacco habit.

    Frankel: Forty-nine other states have determined that taxing cigars and smokeless tobacco is reasonable. It is absolutely bizarre that the state of Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that doesn’t tax these items, and in the midst of a budget crisis that is the logical place to look for additional revenue.

    Democrats say the new tax could raise at least $50 million. In past attempts, lawmakers from Northeast and Southwest Pennsylvania worked hard to defeat the tax in order to protect the state’s cigar makers, tobacco growers as well as miners and steelworkers who are big consumers of chewing tobacco and snuff.

    Pennsylvania is still operating without a budget. Part of the problem is a partisan fight over whose constituents should shoulder higher taxes. Thursday, House Democrats killed the arts tax in committee. The state’s biggest and most influential arts organizations are located in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The Democrats instead proposed new taxes on smokeless tobacco and cigars. A product important to many rural Republican districts.

    Representative Frankel: The idea of trying to tax families that take their kids to the museum and the zoo and at the same time subsidize tobacco companies for providing these products to our children is just insane, so I think that certainly that many of my colleagues are coming to their senses on this issue.

    Frankel lead several failed attempts to extend the state’s cigarette tax to include these other products.

    The new tax proposal has rekindled the hopes of anti-tobacco activists like Deborah Brown.

    Brown: If we really wanted to look at this tax and make it equal to the cigarette tax it would probably need to be equal to 60 percent of wholesale, but at this point we are pleased that they are considering even half of that.

    Brown leads the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. She says the proposal is a good health policy that has the added benefit of helping to close the state budget gap. Brown says taxing flavored tobacco powders and snuff will discourage use among youth, who are more sensitive to price.

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