Cecil Brown talks to NPR’s “All Things Considered” about raising cig tax

Audio for this story will be available at approx. 6:00 p.m. Central: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106338167

A Succession Of Hikes

Picking up two cartons of generic cigarettes at Lakeland Tobacco in Flowood, Miss., smoker Mark Stewflick expressed frustration with his state’s most recent price hike.

“Going up again?” Stewflick asked. “Good grief. [It’s] definitely going to make me quit.”

That’s exactly what public health groups want to hear — they advocate higher tobacco taxes as a way to discourage smoking.

Mississippi raised its cigarette tax 50 cents per pack in May. Then the legislature added another 25 cents a pack this month on cheaper cigarettes made by companies that were not part of the state’s settlement of a lawsuit against big tobacco firms. Mississippi once had one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the country at 18 cents a pack.

Offsetting Health Costs

State Rep. Cecil Brown (D-Jackson), a member of the Mississippi Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, said the state needs the revenue.

“The Medicaid budget in our state is just about to eat us alive, and a substantial number of people who are on Medicaid are smokers,” Brown said. “If people are going to choose to smoke and it’s a voluntary activity, and they are costing the other taxpayers in the state money, then they should contribute to the cost.”

After years of opposing and vetoing higher cigarette taxes, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, a former tobacco lobbyist, relented in a year when the state was facing a $400 million shortfall.

Other states that raised cigarette taxes include Arkansas, Hawaii, New Jersey, Vermont and Wisconsin. Florida raised its cigarette tax by a dollar a pack. Rhode Island, too — bringing the total tax there to $3.46 per pack, the highest in the country.