Opinions divided over cigarette tax increase

Local smokers and non-smokers are divided over the state Senate’s proposed cigarette tax increase of 50 cents per pack.

Many smokers are skeptical of the plan, say it is unfair and won’t work.

“It does not make any sense,” 20-year smoker Greg Goodwin said.

Goodwin said although cigarettes are about $4 a pack, a 50-cent increase won’t cause him to stop smoking.

“It is always costly,” he said. “Eventually, I will quit. Because they will be 50 centing it to death, it is going to be more than that. You know how that works.”

Tammy Sumeral says the increase will most likely cause her to go to a cheaper brand of cigarettes.

“I have been smoking since I was about 19 years old,” she said.

Sumeral said if cigarettes were to go up to about $10 a pack, she might consider quitting.

State senators approved a 50-cent increase on cigarettes a week after the House passed a 30-cent increase. Lawmakers want to use the money for health care and smoking-prevention efforts.

Even if the two bodies come to an agreement on the increase, Gov. Mark Sanford has threatened to veto a tax increase that does not have a matching tax decrease.

South Carolina’s tax of 7 cents a pack hasn’t been increased since 1977 when a pack cost an average of 49 cents.

House Minority Leader Harry Ott said that body would probably be willing to pass a 50-cent increase.

Even so, “I would have to get into more of the details on how they are spending the money,” the St. Matthews Democrat said.

Ott would like to see money from the increase set aside for the future.

“We have to start planning on the cuts that will be coming next year,” he said.

Gary Donald, who smokes cigars, says the tax increase may mean fewer people smoking but he thinks it will not do what politicians hope it will do.

“All it is going to do is stop the revenue coming in,” Donald said. “They are shooting themselves in the foot. They will not be raising any more money in the sense that you have more people quitting.”

Donald also said he does not think the tax is fair.

“Why is it fair to tax these guys and say they are paying for health care?” he said. “They said the same thing about 20 years ago when they started out and they said they would cut health care by 50 percent by the year 2000. They did not do it.”

Cope resident Luther Green said he might have to stop smoking if the cost goes up.

“Right now some of them are like $4.95 a pack,” he said. “Cooking gas, car gas is up. Yep, utility bills, they go up. It will be kind of hard, I reckon. It is already hard.”

Green said he does not think the tax is fair.

“I remember back in the day tobacco wasn’t but maybe $2 a pack. Now it has doubled the price,” he said. “It is steady climbing like everything else.”

He said there are other unhealthy habits like eating too many hamburgers. He wonders why fast food isn’t taxed.

“Overall, the stuff we eat now and they put all these chemicals to it,” he said. “That is going to carry us away like the cigarettes would do. Some people come up with a cancer and they never smoke!”

While he does not smoke, Barnwell resident John Washington says he does not think it is fair for taxes to increase.

“People are going to smoke anyway,” he said. “They are just ripping people off, I think. Do you think that will force people to stop smoking? I doubt it.”

Washington asked what government will want to tax tomorrow.

“These politicians come up with all these excuses to tax people,” he said. “We pay enough taxes. I don’t think they should do it.”

Jim Pennington says he is not a smoker but his children smoke and he would like for them to quit before it is too late. He has family members with lung cancer.

“I think if it helps people quit smoking, that will be a good thing,” he said.

source: timesanddemocrat.com

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