(UPDATED with response from Perdue, below.)
Looks like Governor Bev Perdue may have missed an easy target last week. Her budget proposal did not raise the tax on cigarettes. A new poll out today from the North Carolina Alliance for Health shows 2 out of 3 likely voters would support a dollar-per-pack increase.
The Alliance is a group of organizations that promote tobacco and obesity prevention policy. Executive Director Pam Seamans says the poll was commissioned because “We knew there would be a lot of debate about how to close the budget gap. We felt that the cigarette tax should be part of that debate.”
Anti-tobacco groups say raising the price of cigarettes is the most effective way to cut down on the number of young people who start smoking. Seamans says at 45 cents a pack, North Carolina’s tax on cigarettes is the 7th lowest in the country. Raising the tax to $1.45 “would be the national average. This is not an unreasonable amount.”
Seamans says a dollar-per-pack hike would also generate serious revenue for state coffers -- $338 million, according an estimate by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. And raising the tax on cigars, pouches, and other forms of tobacco by a similar margin could yield an additional $50 million.
Seamans said the poll shows a cigarette tax increase would have widespread voter backing, even from self-identified conservatives. “We specifically asked if they would support a one-dollar increase. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of support. I think North Carolina voters understand this is a viable tax increase on a product that is not taxed as highly here as in other parts of the country.”
Governor Perdue included a dollar-per-pack cigarette tax increase in her 2009 budget proposal, when the state’s budget gap was half the size of this year’s. Lawmakers eventually approved a ten-cent increase in their final budget.
Perdue’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment on the new poll. To see the full release, click here (PDF).
Update: Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson responded via email: "It didn’t seem like the year to impose a tax that could negatively impact North Carolina farmers particularly, and [the governor] was able to protect teachers and teaching assistants using the partial penny sales tax alone."