A bill that would raise the Utah per-pack tax on cigarettes by 50 cents and devote most of the revenue to offset smoking-related state medical costs passed favorably through a House committee Tuesday.
HB355, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, would increase the current tax of 69.5 cents to $1.19 1/2 per pack of cigarettes.
The intent of the bill was generally praised by committee members, though the mechanism was scrutinized.
Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, took exception with the structure of Ray's bill.
"It's not our obligation as a legislature to legislate morality or try to curb behavior," Johnson said. "We cannot penalize a specific group of people because we disapprove of their behavior."
Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, said that smoking, and the health consequences related to smoking, are the responsibility of the individual.
"You have to be able to deal with those choices," Dougall said.
HB355 passes back to the House floor for further consideration.