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West Virginia Sets Example for Southern Neighbors by Increasing Cigarette Tax

Other Southern States Should Follow and Enjoy Health and Revenue Benefits
March 14, 2003

Louisville, KY — A bill just passed in West Virginia that raises the existing excise tax on cigarettes from 17 cents to 55 cents per pack will go into effect on May 1, 2003 with the blessing of Governor Bob Wise. The bill marks the first success of the recently formed Southern Neighbors’ Collaborative. The Southern Neighbors’ Collaborative is working together to raise the cigarette excise tax in seven southern tobacco-producing states.

Southern Neighbors is made up of public health groups from Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. All of the states in the collaborative have cigarette taxes that lag far behind the current national average of 64 cents per pack. The new increase in West Virginia will help boost the average tax of 8.25 cents in these tobacco-producing states.

The people of West Virginia can now count themselves among the 21 other states and the District of Columbia that have already raised their cigarette taxes in the past year. In addition, legislatures in 3 more states, South Dakota, Wyoming and Connecticut just voted to raise their taxes. “The state’s cigarette tax revenue in West Virginia will nearly triple, from more than $30 million a year to more than $90 million a year. And West Virginia will collect nearly $10 million from the time the tax goes up May 1 until the beginning of the next fiscal year July 1.” Tax and Revenue Secretary Brian Kastick said.

According to Sara Crickenberger, of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free West Virginia. “We are pleased that the tax will help alleviate the state budget crisis but we are even more excited about the health benefits it will bring. Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes will reduce youth smoking by approximately seven percent and overall cigarette consumption by three to five percent.”

The Southern Neighbors’ Collaborative is committed to raising tobacco taxes in all of the partner states and are presenting lawmakers with evidence that supports the financial wins, the health wins and the political wins when new cigarette excise taxes are adopted.

Kentucky, whose 3-cent tax has stayed the same since 1970, has been discussing a significant 44-cent increase (which would collect $5 million for every penny raised), for the past two legislative sessions and South Carolina is considering increasing its 7-cent tax by an additional 52 cents. Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner has also floated the idea of raising the state's 2.5-cents-a-pack tax - the lowest in the country.

Trish Dever, Regional Director for the Southern Neighbors’ Collaborative, commented “It is our sincere hope that the passage of the cigarette excise tax in West Virginia will encourage all of the state legislatures in the Southern Neighbors Collaborative to take similar action. Southern Neighbors deserve the same benefits a large number of states across the country are already realizing – reductions in youth smoking and increased revenues in their budgets.”

The Southern Neighbors Collaborative is a partnership of public health organizations in Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia focused on bringing the benefits of higher cigarette taxes to southern, tobacco-producing states.