A proposal to raise the 69.5-cent per pack tax on cigarettes by $1.30 to an even $2 will be proposed today by an alliance of anti-tobacco public and private health care advocates.
The tax would be the biggest single cigarette tax ever and would make the state tax on cigarettes the sixth highest in the country, up from 34th nationwide. It would increase the average cost of a pack of cigarettes to more than $5.
The increase is designed to hurt, said Michael Siler, government relations director with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. The hope is that it would induce at least 15,000 Utah smokers to give up the habit.
"Over 220,000 Utahns smoke, including more than 15,000 kids between the ages of 12 and 18, and that appears to be on the rise," Siler said. "We also know that in Utah we have more than $345 million in smoking-related annual health care costs and that businesses experience $275 million in annual productivity losses due to smoking."Those who quit will see immediate improvements in their physical and financial health, Siler he said. Positive effects are also being predicted that would decrease the $345 million expended annually in Utah for tobacco-caused health care expenditures.
More than $104 million of that is associated with smoking-related medical care provided through the state and federal Medicaid insurance plan for low-income Utahns. Each household in Utah underwrites Medicaid with $535 in annual tax payments.
State anti-tobacco advocates endorse the plan, but point out Utah ranks lowest nationwide in the number of tobacco users.
A poll released in February shows that almost 80 percent of Utah voters supported HB355, legislation that stalled in the House Rules Committee at the end of the session. HB355 would have hiked the current 69.5-cent-per-20-cigarette pack by an additional 50 cents, a 72 percent increase that would raise an extra $25 million to $29 million annually.
The legislation ran aground because Gov. Jon Huntsman and GOP legislative leaders said they wanted no tax hikes of any kind approved during the 2008 general session. The proposed tax hike will not be considered until Jan. 2009.