Local smokers blow off Blanco

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 16, 2005


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – The House Committee on Ways and Means has advanced Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s bill on the cigarette tax hike, and area smokers have some negative opinions on it.

House Bill 437, if passed, would increase tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1, raising the tax to $1.36. According to the Federal Tax Administration, Kentucky has the lowest taxes on cigarettes at 3 cents a pack. Rhode Island is the highest at $2.46 and Mississippi has an 18 cents tax.

Gov. Blanco maintains the tax would be put toward teacher and school support worker pay raises, though the bill does not specifically address that.

Brandy Wade, an employee at Payless Cigarettes in LaPlace, said she does not think state teachers will see the money generated by the tax hike.

“If I remember correctly, at the time she was running, she said they already had the money to raise teacher pay from the casinos” she said, “and that didn’t happen.”

David Legendre, a local smoker, shared the same sentiment.

“Gambling was supposed to do all that,” he said, “they shouldn’t raise those taxes by even a penny.”

A pack of Camel Lights costs $2.84 with tax at Payless Cigarettes, and, across the street at Winn-Dixie, a pack costs $3.47. Prices vary, however, with a pack of cigarettes at the Walgreens a mere block away costing $4.19.

The tax is doubled from what Blanco had originally proposed on the bill. However, at the time, she was combining the cigarette taxes with a bill proposing the state raise all “sin taxes,” which would include taxes on alcohol and video poker. Land-based casinos and riverboat casinos would have been exempt from that hike.

Blanco has since put that bill on the back-burner.

Wade, said she feels smokers are being discriminated against and questioned why smokers are now the one with the burden of paying for teacher raises.

“I think they should raise the alcohol taxes,” Wade said, “because cigarettes don’t kill anyone on the road.”

Some opponents of the bill say that with the significantly lower price of cigarettes in Mississippi, the gates will be opened for an underground market.

“It’ll be like moonshine was,” said Robert Browning, a resident of Garyville who said he has been a smoker for six years, “I know I’d (buy it) like that, if I could.”

Though Wade said she doesn’t believe that will happen (“the gas is too high”), she does believe theft will rise, and people will make more of an effort to steal cigarettes.

“I think people will do worse acts just for a pack of cigarettes,” echoed Legendre.

Though some lawmakers reportedly support the bill because they believe it will force people to quit smoking, that does not appear to be a belief widely shared.

Wade and Legendre said they don’t think they will quit smoking as a result of the increase, and Wade said he does not think it will affect business either.

“It won’t suffer,” she said, “It may go down a little at first, but it’ll pick back up.”

“For some people it will help them quit, and for some people it will not,” said Bertha Tatum, a smoker from LaPlace, “It might stop me.”

However, there are some that say the health aspect of it will work.

“The day I have to pay a dollar more,” Browning said, “that’ll be the day I quit.”

The bill has to get approval from the full House and the Senate before it passes.