(03/02/2009)
Several members of the West Virginia Legislature want to increase the state's cigarette tax as a way of discouraging smoking, particularly among young people, and as a way to generate revenue for health programs.

They want to add 65 cents a pack, which would bring WV up to the national average.

The federal government has already moved to raise the federal tax on a pack of cigarettes by nearly 62 cents beginning in April.

The revenue generated from the higher tax could help pay for important state initiatives related to health.

West Virginia's tax on cigarettes currently is 55 cents a pack, less than half the average of about $1.20 now levied by the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The proposed raise will mean a total of $1.20 tax on each pack.

The legislative committee says the higher tax will generate $110 million annually to treat and prevent chronic disease associated with smoking.

The funding also would be used to defray costs for Medicaid expansion, provide tax credits for small businesses so they can offer health insurance and pay for an array of health information technology initiatives.

Politicians will likely hesitate over the increase, since the state has among the highest users of nicotine products in America.

Critics of the idea will argue that a reduction in the number of people who smoke will mean less revenue from the cigarette tax, leaving a big funding hole.


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