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SHERIDAN — Anti-tobacco advocates are working to introduce a bill during the upcoming session of the Wyoming State Legislature to increase taxes on tobacco products by 5 cents per cigarette, or $1 per pack.
While the hypothetical revenue generated by the measure could be used to help offset the state’s shrinking budget, an equal motivator in implementing the new tax is to cut tobacco use among Wyomingites.
Wyoming’s tobacco tax presently sits at 60 cents per pack, while the national average hovers at $1.53. At the same time, a 2013 study conducted by the University of Wyoming’s Wyoming Survey & Analysis Center reports nearly one-fourth of adults in the state smoke and 10 percent use smokeless tobacco. Wyoming’s smokeless tobacco rates are 6 percentage points above the national average.
Director of marketing and communications for the Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming Thom Gabrukiewicz said with all political motivations aside, getting the tax passed will make for fewer tobacco users.
“As far as prevention efforts, raising the tax on tobacco does make a large impact on cessation efforts,” he said.
Gabrukiewicz pointed to data presented by Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network that estimates the $1 per pack increase in tobacco products would decrease youth smoking by 14.5 percent and cause 4,200 adults to quit smoking.
The last increase on tobacco products in Wyoming was in 2003, which puts the state well behind the national trend of implementing “sin” taxes to generate revenue with the hopeful side effect of curbing social ills.
“It is not a regressive tax. There is a simple, never-fail way to avoid the tax: Quit using tobacco,” Gabrukiewicz said.
Cost estimates from the Centers for Disease Control are that health care expenditures in Wyoming caused by tobacco use are $136 million, health care expenditures from secondhand smoke are $9.1 million and the state’s Medicaid program takes a hit of $37 million.
Similar legislation aimed at hiking up the price of tobacco products to generate revenue for the state was introduced during the 2013 legislative session as well, but that initiative failed in the House.
Representative Kathy Coleman was the only local legislator to vote for the measure, while Representatives Rosie Berger, John Patton and Mike Madden opposed the bill last year.