Local News

Senate Considers Tax Increase On Tobacco

Posted March 12, 2004 3:46 a.m. EST

— Cigarette smokers and tobacco farmers are under attack again. This time, from Capitol Hill.

Senate Democrats want to boost the federal cigarette tax by 61 cents. If passed, the bill would be a big blow to North Carolina's tobacco industry.

Right now, a pack of Marlboros cost $2.59. Senate Democrats propose raising the federal tax from 39 cents a pack to $1. That means a pack of cigarettes would cost more than $3.

While some people say that would snuff out the tobacco industry, others say go ahead and tax tobacco.

After 50 years and a bout with lung cancer, Eleanor Upton stopped smoking.

"We all know what harm it does," she said.

Still, she does not agree with a proposed federal tax that would increase a pack of cigarettes by 61 cents.

"Once again, the government is getting too involved in our rights," Upton said.

Upton's husband, Robert, kicked the habit too, but he thinks the tax increase is reasonable.

"In view of the fact that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, as long as they don't raise it so high -- that it is a bootleg item -- I think it's fair," he said.

Tobacco farmer Andy Penny cannot think of anything more unfair.

"It's just like driving a nail in the coffin for the tobacco industry," he said.

As he ridges his land to plant tobacco next month, the fourth-generation farmer stirs over the amount of taxes already paid by the consumer and the grower.

"It's going to be detrimental to the tobacco industry," Penny said. "Tobacco is highly motivated by politics and money. You put those two things together and a lot of times it gets very messy."

The proposal by Senate Democrats would raise $8 billion a year. The money would go toward public health initiatives and cutting the deficit.

Tina Dillabough says the increase would likely cut off her pack a day habit.

"I would probably end up quitting," she said.

The amendment was introduced by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin.

At one point, lawmakers talked about using some of the money for the tobacco buyout. Penny feels that would make the tax a little more bearable.