Mar. 29 2006
Washington, DC — By failing to override Governor Haley Barbour's veto of legislation to cut Mississippi's highest-in-the-nation grocery tax and increase its low cigarette tax, the Mississippi Senate has voted to stand with Big Tobacco instead of Mississippi's kids and families. The senators who voted against overriding the veto have missed a golden opportunity to save Mississippi's hard-pressed families hundreds of dollars by cutting the grocery tax, while keeping thousands of kids from smoking by increasing the cigarette tax. In doing so, they have ignored the wishes of the more than 70 percent of Mississippi voters who supported this legislation. These senators and Governor Barbour deserve to pay a high political price for taking food out of the mouths of children and putting cigarettes in them instead.
Governor Barbour and the senators who sustained his veto have chosen to ignore that a grocery tax cut and cigarette tax increase is a win-win-win solution for Mississippi - a health win that will reduce tobacco use and save lives, a financial win that will save Mississippi taxpayers money both by reducing tobacco-caused health care costs and their grocery taxes, and a political win that is popular with the voters. We applaud Lt. Governor Amy Tuck and the senators who chose to override the veto for taking a stand to protect Mississippi's kids and families, not Big Tobacco.
The senators who voted to sustain Governor Barbour's veto have acted against the wishes of the vast majority of Mississippians, a fact that Mississippi's voters may well remember come election time. A poll released earlier this month by Communities for a Clean Bill of Health found that 71 percent of Mississippi voters support increasing the state's cigarette tax by 82 cents per pack as part of an effort to reduce tobacco use, particularly among kids, with revenue dedicated to reducing the state's 7 percent grocery tax. Mississippi's current cigarette tax of 18 cents per pack is among the lowest in the nation and is just a fraction of the average state cigarette tax of 91.7 cents per pack.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in Mississippi, claiming more than 4,700 lives each year and costing the state $662 million annually in health care bills, including $243 million in Medicaid payments alone. The average Mississippi household pays $528 a year in taxes because of tobacco. Currently, 22.4 percent of Mississippi high school students smoke, and 6,800 more kids become regular smokers every year.