What initially looked like smooth sailing for a 3 1/2-cent per pack increase in the cigarette tax hit stormy waters Thursday in a House Revenue and Taxation Committee.
The committee, which delayed a vote on the bill, turned down an amendment that would have raised the tax by 4 1/2 cents a pack, and the same lawmakers who voted against the amendment appeared to be lining up the bill, as well.Proponents of the tax increase - which included children's advocacy groups, health organizations and substance abuse treatment officials - say the added revenue is critical to fund programs for more than 14,000 Utah youths who are addicted to various substances, including tobacco, but who can't get treatment. They also said the increase would result in fewer children smoking.
Opponents argued the tax increase targets the poor and those on fixed incomes. They also noted there were no guarantees lawmakers would budget the increased revenue toward such treatment programs.
"For heaven's sake, if we want to get rid of the problem, then let's have a bill in here outlawing tobacco," said Rep. Bob Anderton, D-Salt Lake, a smoker. "We've heard 45 minutes of unending hypocrisy. This is absolutely absurd."
Former Sen. K.S. Cornaby, representing the Tobacco Institute, told lawmakers he was "greatly troubled" by the thought "we would raise taxes to force our views on those who don't share our views. It's akin to imposing a 10-cent increase in the gasoline tax to encourage people to drive less and become less dependent on foreign oil."
Many lawmakers do not oppose taxing cigarettes. Rather they oppose raising taxes in a year of substantial budget surpluses.