RALEIGH, N.C. — Another state has caved under pressure to balance the budget, and tobacco sales are the apparent fix.
Tobacco-rich Virginia is one step away from approving a significant cigarette tax hike. The next logical question: Is North Carolina next?
Anti-smoking advocates would like it to be.
Virginia's tax increase gives North Carolina the second-lowest cigarette tax in the nation -- igniting debate over whether the state should raise it.
The North Carolina chapter of the
American Cancer Society
hailed Virginia's decision to raise its cigarette tax from 21/2 cents a pack to 30 cents a pack. Officials are optimistic it will help their case for a 75-cent tax increase in North Carolina.
"I hope we look at Virginia, our neighbors, and realize that they put the state first," said John Thompson, of the American Cancer Society. "I hope North Carolina puts the state first and looks as cigarettes as not so much the sacred cow anymore."
ACS officials have estimated that Virginia's tax increase not only will cut down on teenage smoking, but adult smoking, too. They believe it also will generate about $280 million in annual revenue.
But North Carolina lawmakers who oppose a tax increase snuff out that argument.
"What we will probably see is a larger number of Virginians coming into North Carolina to buy their cigarettes," Wake County Rep. J. Sam Ellis said. "So, we'll probably generate a similar amount of revenue from that windfall there without having to raise taxes."
Though some smokers north of the border say it will be worth the trip for cheaper smokes, others disagree.
"Not at all," said Virginia smoker September Archer. "It's too far to go. Keep it local."
A proposed 75-cent tax increase is pending in the North Carolina House. Supporters want legislators to consider it when they meet for the short session starting next month.
It will not be easy to get it passed. Similar legislation has failed three years in a row.