Wyoming lawmakers propose to nearly double cigarette taxes
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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming lawmakers voted Wednesday to raise state excise taxes on cigarettes from 60 cents a pack to $1.04.
Health advocates petitioned the Legislative Joint Committee on Revenue at its Wednesday meeting in Casper for an increase to more than $1.60 per pack to curb smoking habits and reduce statewide healthcare costs.
Opponents of the tax, however, said the steep increase would discourage Coloradans and other heavily taxed smokers from crossing state lines to shop in Wyoming. They also called the proposed increase a “regressive tax,” which could disproportionately hurt the poor.
Representative Tim Hallinan, R-Gillette, offered a compromise.
“We’ve had this bill in front of us for 10 years and it’s been beaten every time,” said Hallinan, who is a retired doctor.
He said an increase of 45 cents per pack of cigarettes instead of a $1 add-on could “somewhat” discourage young smokers from taking up the habit, while not erasing foreigners’ trips to the Wyoming to stock up on cigarettes, fuel and alcohol.
The bill will be scrutinized by the full legislature in its January session and can only become law if passed by a majority vote of the Senate and House of Representatives. the state.
Taxes and teens
Wyoming ranks 14th in the nation in terms of smoking population, at 18.4%.
West Virginia has the most smokers at 23.8% and Utah the least at 7.9%, according to worldpopulationreview.com.
In neighboring states with higher cigarette taxes, fewer teens are smoking, according to Jan Cartwright of the Wyoming Public Health Association.
Cartright told the committee that 15.7% of high school students smoke in Wyoming.
In Montana, where the state excise tax rate is $1.70 per pack, 7.7% of high school students smoke. Colorado has a state excise tax of $1.94 and a high school student smoking rate of 3.3%. For Utah ($1.70 state excise tax), 2.2% of high school-age teenagers smoke, and for South Dakota ($1.53), 12% of high school students smoke, Cartwright said.
“Prevention is the whole point of a tax, from a health perspective,” she said.
Health insurance premiums
Other health advocates have addressed the committee, saying a steep tax hike would be the best deterrent for young people and low-income smokers.
Kristin Page-Nei of the American Cancer Society said cigarettes are draining Wyoming’s health and insurance funds.
“Remember, tobacco is really costing the state of Wyoming a lot of money,” she said. “Not just taxpayers, but us as individuals who also pay health insurance premiums.”
Page-Nei also proposed an increase in taxes on all tobacco products so that users don’t just switch to other types of tobacco.
Mike Moser, executive director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association, said he opposes the tax because it is an unfair tax against one industry over others.
“You choose a specific person for whatever they choose to do,” Moser said. “A cigarette smoker will pay more than 50% of the amount of this packet in taxes. I don’t know of any other product taxed at this level.
Moser said retailers in the state would be hurt by the move, especially at the borders near Nebraska and Idaho — which have low cigarette taxes — and around the Wind River Indian Reservation, where the taxation of cigarettes is minimal.
“Maybe you hate smokers. Maybe you think they are the most disgusting creatures known to mankind,” Moser said. “But on the other hand, it’s our people; they are our friends, they are our citizens, and I don’t think this tax is appropriate at this time.
Ashley Harpstreith, executive director of the Wyoming Taxpayers Association, disputed the claim that the tax increase would significantly reduce smoking habits.
“The real behavior change is that sales will go elsewhere, including gray and black markets, reservations and the internet – ultimately destabilizing Wyoming’s current tax system.”
Harpstreith said people in Wyoming already pay millions in taxes. She called the cigarette tax proposal a “regressive” tax because it would disproportionately hurt low-income citizens, who are statistically more likely to smoke than middle- and high-income residents.
Reservations, tax evasion
Committee co-chair Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, voted in favor of the tax increase, but said it wouldn’t work properly unless the reservation’s tribal governments also agree to raise cigarette taxes.
Cigarettes on the reservation are not fully taxed. They’re about $1 less per pack than in the nearby reservationless community of Riverton, according to comparisons by Cowboy State Daily on Friday.
Cigarette retailers on the reservation donate a percentage of the funds to the state department of revenue each year. The percentage is based on a rough estimate of the number of non-natives who purchase cigarettes on the reservation.
Case said the estimate is old and “definitely out of date” because several casinos have opened on the reservation since its inception, attracting more non-natives to buy cigarettes in the area.
Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon is working on a pact with the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, both of Wyoming, that would tax all cigarettes but hand over a percentage of tax revenue to tribal governments, as revenue.
The tribes did not commit to the agreement.
“They’re thinking about it,” said Case, who is also a member of the Legislature’s Tribal Relations Meeting.
The bill authorized the 7-5 committee.
Those who voted in favor of the tax were:
Republican Meaning. Cale Case (Lander), Fred Baldwin (Kemmerer), Stephan Pappas (Cheyenne), Wendy Schuler (Evanston); Independent Representative Jim Roscoe (Wilson) and Democratic Representative Mike Yin (Jackson).
Those who voted against the tax were:
Republican Senator Tom James (Green River) and Representatives Mark Baker (Green River), Bill Henderson (Cheyenne), Mark Jennings (Sheridan) and Chuck Gray (Casper).
Gray’s father, Jan Charles Gray, testified against the tax at the committee meeting.
Committee co-chair Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, did not vote because he had left the meeting moments earlier.
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