Lawmakers debate cigarette sales tax increase

Lawmakers debate cigarette sales tax increase

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - If you're a smoker, get ready to pay more for a pack of cigarettes. Lawmakers are fighting in Baton Rouge, over just how much of an increase to tack onto tobacco products.

New Orleans residents seem split on the idea.

"As much as they want to increase it, I'd be in favor of it," Tiras Cunningham said.

Another man, Mark, says, "I think tripling it is a little extreme."

On Friday, the Louisiana Senate voted to raise the cigarette tax from 36 cents a pack to a $1.08.

"It's a way to raise nearly $200 million given the fact we're in a gigantic budget deficit, it would also help plug that hole," UNO political scientist Ed Chervenak, Ph.D., said.

But the House has scoffed at the idea, suggesting a more moderate increase of 32 cents, to bring the sales tax on a pack of cigarettes to 68 cents. That's the same amount Mississippi charges.

"If they go up, I ain't smoking no more," smoker Roy Fortado said.

"If you increase the taxes, you reduce the rate of smoking which allows the state to save millions of dollars on its healthcare," Chervenak explained.

Yet an alternative that is meant to help people quit smoking, e cigarettes, or vaping products, are included in the sales tax proposal.

Chervenak explains, "These are new products coming out on the market and the state is desperate for revenue."

"I think they have to be careful when they apply taxes to have a well reasoned approach," said The Vapor Room manager, Brendan Frost.

Frost says while he understands the state's need to raise money to fill a budget deficit, he fears an increased tax would drive the vaping industry out of business.

"I would like to see vaping thrive and I'd like to see more smokers quit and switch to this," Frost said.

The House and Senate have until next week, the end of the legislative session, to agree on the tax proposal. Whatever money is collected from a sales tax increase, would go toward funding higher education and healthcare services.

Right now, Louisiana has the second lowest cigarette tax in the country.

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