Cigarette tax hike proposed

By Kate Nash: The Santa Fe New Mexican

Anti-tobacco advocates say they have one way to help the state solve its budget crisis and help prevent smoking: Raise the tobacco tax in the state by $1 a pack.

The idea could bring in $29.7 million in the first year.

Although a bill has yet to be introduced this session to raise the tax, there already is public support.

A survey released Thursday by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids found that 76 percent of the registered voters polled support a proposal to raise the tax by $1. Seventy-nine percent supported an increase of 60 cents per pack.

Fifty-seven percent of smokers surveyed said they would support the $1 increase. The current tax per pack is 91 cents.

The survey by Research and Polling Inc. also showed that 64 percent of those support raising the cigarette tax as a way to deal with the state’s project $450 million shortfall this year. That amount had the highest support among other ideas that included increasing vehicle registration fees or gas or property taxes, or decreasing funding to state schools and health care programs.

The survey questioned a random sample of 500 registered likely New Mexico voters earlier this month.

Anti-tobacco advocates say smoking contributes to millions of dollars in public health spending that could be saved or spent elsewhere.

“This survey shows you that the public is very much in tune with not only the problems, but the potential solutions,” said Nathan Bush, vice president for government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

The money generated by the tax could go to the state’s general fund, or to smoking cessation, education or health care programs, depending on how a proposal is crafted.

Bush said a proposal to raise the tax won’t make everyone happy.

“This is a big bill that will cause big heartburn for the tobacco industry lobby. For that reason, lawmakers are taking this proposal very seriously and are having the necessary conversations before moving forward with one or more tobacco tax bills,” he said.