Smoking

A bill (LB438) in the Nebraska Legislature proposes a $1.50 per pack increase in the cigarette tax.

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The American Cancer Society delivered messages to state senators this week to remind them there is revenue available to address the state's continuing budget shortfall through a cigarette tax hike bill, which polling suggests is supported by a wide majority of Nebraskans.

And the bill (LB438) can help save lives, discourage young people from smoking, and fund health care and wellness programs, Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha said Friday.

Howard's proposal to increase the cigarette tax by $1.50 a pack, rising from 64 cents to $2.14, is stuck in the Legislature's Revenue Committee.

Estimates of the fiscal impact vary.

A fiscal note attached to the bill suggests that it could bring nearly $50 million flowing into the state's general fund while also designating tens of millions of dollars to an array of health care programs.   

Fiscal estimates suggest that annual revenue would gradually decline because of a decrease in smoking resulting from the increased cost of tobacco products.

"The whole point is to try to discourage people from using tobacco," Howard said. "If young people would not start smoking, I would love that."

The Cancer Society pointed to a statewide telephone survey of 500 registered voters in Nebraska last year that showed 71 percent support for the proposed tax increase.

The question asked in the survey was: "Would you favor or oppose a one dollar and fifty cent-per- pack increase in the state cigarette tax, plus an equivalent increase for other tobacco products like cigars and chewing tobacco, with the revenue dedicated to addressing the budget shortfall and funding health care and wellness programs, including programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit?"

"I would hope that might be part of the consideration when we fill our budget deficit needs," Howard said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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