New coalition proposes higher Kentucky cigarette tax

A new coalition of health and business groups is pushing for a new tax on tobacco products sold in Kentucky.

Their proposal: a dollar per pack increase in the state cigarette tax.

The group Coalition for a Smoke Free Tomorrow introduced the plan as a way to stop tobacco use and to keep others from starting to begin with. Some are unsure if this plan will actually work.

Coalition members say the proposed tax is one method they want to reduce smoking and tobacco use in the commonwealth. A Centers for Disease Control And Prevention study showed more than a quarter of Kentucky adults smoked cigarettes as of 2015, one of the highest rates in the nation. 

"It's way past due," says Debbie Zuerner Johnson, Director of Community Benefits at Owensboro Health. She adds higher tobacco taxes have worked in other states, and it could help fund more smoking cessation programs.

"Curriculum and programs available to communities, are scratching and trying to find funds to use for that purpose. When there's no funds for that purpose, then it really does limit access to those who want to quit," she says.

The coalition's plan includes help for cities and counties to start smoke free laws, and educate groups about cessation resources. Donna Edge of Owensboro says she doesn't smoke, but others in her family do. She says a new tax won't be enough to curb the state's tobacco use.

"It's up to the parents to talk to their kids about smoking, and talk to them about the dangers of it. But raising the tax on cigarettes or any tobacco is not going to stop them if they want to," she says.

Coalition officials say if lawmakers approve a new tax, it could raise up to $266 million in revenues, and keep the state's current tobacco tax below the national average. Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Adkisson said that the costs of smoking can cost employers up to $5,800 per employee a year.

(This story was originally published on October 19, 2017)


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