Republicans propose tobacco tax hike


Republican legislators want to double taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products, which could burn a hole in smokers’ wallets.

The current tax for cigarettes is $1.23 a pack. However, the proposed increase would more than double that to $2.52 per pack.

Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester, said he proposed the House version of the bill in order to reduce the number of teenage smokers.

According to the American Cancer Society, youth smoking rates drop by 6.5 percent for every 10 percent increase in the price of a pack of cigarettes.

Proponents of the bill also argue the increase would bring in $320 million over two years, which would allow the state to repay the more than $2 billion it borrowed from public schools to overhaul budget deficits.

Minnesota’s current cigarette-tax rate is the 27th highest in the nation, according to Raise it for Health coalition, comprised of some of the largest health organizations in the state.

Dave Golden, a spokesman for Boynton Health Service said the tax increase will hopefully deter younger people from smoking.

“Increasing the taxes on cigarettes yet again will decrease the rate of young smokers because they’re not going to want to pay $8 a pack for a product,” Golden said.

According to a 2010 Boynton survey, 18.4 percent of University of Minnesota students smoke. That’s down from 41.8 percent in 1998.

In 2003, the University implemented a ban on smoking within 25 feet of campus buildings.

Alex Card, a physics major at the University, said raising taxes on cigarettes won’t discourage younger people from starting to smoke.

“There’s no way to stop that,” Card said. “Kids are going to smoke, and nothing will change that, no matter how expensive [cigarettes] are.”

Golden said students generally have a great handle on reasons why they shouldn’t smoke.

“It’s a horrible addiction with serious impacts,” Golden said. “Once you start smoking, you can’t escape the addiction.”

First-year student smoking rates have decreased significantly in recent years and now sit at about 20 percent. Golden said that data is “encouraging.”

Card buys cigarettes every two weeks and said the proposal is “horrible.”

Card said he understands why legislators are proposing an increase in taxes but said something else should be taxed rather than cigarettes and tobacco.

“Taxes are great, and the government needs money to help pay for public uses and to help lower student loans,” Card said. “I just think tobacco products are the wrong thing to be taxed.”

Previous bills involving tax hikes for tobacco products haven’t always gained a lot of support from Republicans.

The bill is sponsored by Sens. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, Julie Rosen R-Fairmont and Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls. Benson is leading the way in the House.