Poll shows wide support for tobacco tax hike

A new poll shows two out of three N.C. voters would support raising taxes on tobacco products to help bridge the state budget gap.

Posted Updated

Laura Leslie
(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." 


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