March 5, 2013
Despite public support, lawmakers not likely to pass cigarette tax hike

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although a poll released Tuesday says a majority of West Virginians support raising the state's cigarette tax, even some of the lawmakers who support such a measure say it's unlikely to pass this legislative session.

"The prevailing feeling at the Capitol is that there will be no tax increases," said Delegate Danny Wells, D-Kanawha. "That's not always a good thing, especially when the health of the people is involved.

"I think we by all means should increase that tax," Wells said. "It's the healthy thing to do. I see this as a splendid opportunity for smokers to contribute to the economic vibrancy of the state."

The new poll, from the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free West Virginia, indicates that 67 percent of West Virginia voters favor a $1 per pack increase on the state's cigarette tax. Voters favor a cigarette tax hike to address budget shortfalls instead of other options like increasing sales, income, beverage and business taxes or reducing funding to health care, higher education, primary care clinics or child protection programs, according to the poll, the results of which were released Tuesday.

The coalition surveyed 500 registered West Virginia voters using live interviews Feb. 19-21. The coalition and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded the poll.

Tobacco-related illnesses claim the life of around 3800 West Virginians each year, former state senator Dr. Dan Foster said at a press conference about the survey Tuesday afternoon.

Smoking costs the state more than $690 million in health care costs each year, Foster said.

"This horrible toll will only continue if we don't act," Foster said. More than 9,800 West Virginia kids try cigarettes for the first time each year and 2,600 of them become regular smokers, he said.

"If the current trend continues, 4,600 of these West Virginia kids alive today will die of premature death from tobacco use," Foster said.

Advocates say increasing the price of cigarettes will lower usage, especially among young people.

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