Peter Corroon sat at his dining room table holding a pack of Marlboro Light cigarettes, surrounded by his wife, Amy, and their three young children, but he wasn’t even thinking about lighting up.
The Salt Lake County mayor, who has his sights set on the Governor’s Mansion just around the corner from his home in the Avenues, talked Sunday with his kids about the health risks of smoking while repeating his support for increasing the state cigarette tax.
“Our state has the opportunity to show leadership and common sense,” Corroon said. “As governor, I would support Utah families over Big Tobacco.”
Under a Senate bill that failed to get out of committee last week, the tax on the pack of cigarettes he was holding would rise from 69.5 cents to $2. An aide said the pack cost $6.08.
Corroon declined to say how much he thinks the tax should be increased, but he said he is more concerned with getting smokers to quit — and encouraging young people not to start — than with finding funds to plug the state’s $700 million budget gap.
“This issue is about our health, not about revenue,” he said.
The proposed tax hike would raise an estimated $24 million. Gov. Gary Herbert said last week he would consider a veto if it passes.
A recent Deseret News/KSL-TV poll showed that 80 percent of Utahns favor increasing taxes on both tobacco and alcohol, but Corroon said his focus for now is on tobacco.
He showed his children pictures of healthy lungs next to a smoker’s lung, prompting reactions of “disgusting,” “eww” and “gross.”
“This looks like a piece of rotten sidewalk,” said his daughter Sophie.
Nationwide, the average state tax on a discount pack of cigarettes is close to $1.40, and federal tax adds another $1.01.
Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, who sits on the committee that rejected the tax hike, said it would be more likely to pass if the increase is held to 95 cents. That would bring the rate in line with the tax in surrounding states.
The bill’s sponsor is Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden.
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