Lawmakers are scheduled to vote this week on a bill that could increase the price of cigarettes by $2 a pack.
Senators decided to vote on Bill 150 last night after discussing the bill for several hours. Sen. Benjamin Cruz, an author of the bill, said it will be voted on by Friday.
If Bill 150 becomes a law, new taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products will take effect 60 days later. The current $1 tax on cigarettes will climb to $3 and the current $3.50 tax on a pound of snuff will climb to $14.
Cruz said he hoped a higher price on cigarettes would persuade some smokers to quit and prevent children from starting. According to the bill, Guam has the highest rate of adult tobacco use of all U.S. states and territories. “It’s embarrassing to discover that on Guam we are number one, but not in education. We are number one in smoking,” he said. Adding later: “We are number one for the wrong reason.”
If Bill 150 is passed, the money raised by the new taxes will go into the Healthy Futures Fund, a new pool for money that can be appropriated by the Legislature for health agencies, substance abuse awareness programs and public safety programs.
About a third of the money will go to Guam Memorial Hospital, the Guam Cancer Trust Fund and the Guam Cancer Registry. Speaker Judith Won Pat called the bill the single most effective policy to lower tobacco rates and to build programs that prevent smoking habits.
Most of the debate on the bill was about how high the new taxes should be.
Sen. Adolpho Palacios felt $2 tax increase per pack was not enough. Palacios said senators should shape the taxes added by the bill by considering how much smoking costs the government in health care.
Tobacco products are a leading cause of lung cancer and lung cancer is the most common cause of death on Guam, according to Pacific Daily News files.
Even if these taxes are enacted, some people will continue to smoke, Palacios said. If they chose to do so, they should pay for the costs of their future health care, he said. “Even if we double this or triple this, there will be smokers and they will still not pay for all the harms and ills they create,” Palacios said.
Not all senators supported the increase. Sens. Frank Blas Jr. and Telo Taitague worried the new taxes could push smokers to a black market. Blas worried smokers might be driven to crime to support their addiction.
Taitague said the increase was too much too soon. “At the rate we are going right now we might as well just ban cigarette smoking on Guam, period,” she said.
Cruz initially proposed a larger increase to the taxes on other kinds of tobacco, including snuff, because he wanted it to be equal to the new tax on cigarettes. Cruz didn’t want the new taxes to force smokers to switch to snuff, which “is even more disgusting.” The current tax on snuff is $3.50 per pound, but senators have considered raising the price to as much as $21 per pound.
Senators are scheduled to return to session at 9 a.m. today.
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