Smokers brace for possible quadrupling of tax

Local smokers are sounding off about Governor Bobby Jindal's new tax plan and its push to quadruple the taxes paid on a pack of cigarettes. It's just one part of a sweeping new reform package that the governor says would make Louisiana more business friendly.

They gather on the streets of the CBD, smokers who are not allowed to indulge indoors. "My husband and I have been trying to quit. It's not easy," said Allison Lambonsy of New Orleans.

The  habit may get a lot more expensive for Louisiana smokers.  Governor Jindal proposed raising the tax on a pack of cigarettes from $0.36 to $1.41 as part of a sweeping new plan to raise sales taxes while eliminating corporate and income taxes.

"We would go from 49th to 50th in sales taxes, but we would go from 32nd to 1st in the overall rankings, and that would be great progress for the state," Jindal told state lawmakers in Baton Rouge Thursday.

It's a far different position than he took two years ago, when he fiercely opposed such an increase.

"That is too much, that's too much money.  They don't need to raise it at all," said smoker Diane Bean of New Orleans.

The Jindal administration hopes to raise $370 million in new revenue, but some lawmakers worry that it will produce less cash than expected.

Senator J.P. Morrell (D-New Orleans) said, "There's an idea that if we increase cigarette taxes our budget will go up, but the reality is less people will smoke cigarettes."

Not everyone agrees. "No, it won't make me quit, I've got to have my cigarettes," said Diane Bean.

Pat Lynch of Loyola's business school said, "If you're into cigarettes or alcohol, you're not going to like paying higher prices.  But I don't think it will sway you from using that product."

While a tobacco tax increase would raise the price of a box of cigarettes to the Texas rate, smokers from other states say it's still not a bad deal.

In Louisiana, smokers currently pay about four to five dollars a pack. In New York City, they pay more than double that right now.

"It slowed people down... $12 a pack is a lot of money, especially when the economy is bad. It takes an impact on people that smoke," said former New Yorker Jessica Beland.

The proposed $1.05 increase in cigarette prices, coupled with a 40 percent increase in state sales taxes, would give Louisiana the highest overall sales tax rate in the country.

Smokers believe they are being picked on.

The tax plan will begin being taken up by state lawmakers, next month.

A lot of economists and lawmakers are worried about this complicated plan. A lot has to happen, and they worry that the state's budget could fall short if corporate and income taxes are cut.