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New cigarette tax is no April Fools' joke

'Historic' tax is expected to encourage about 1 million to quit.

By Karen Datko Sep 28, 2009 2:59AM

Many smokers aren't finding the cost of cigarettes a laughing matter. The federal tax on a pack jumped Wednesday -- April Fools' Day -- from 39 cents to $1.01. The tax increase is so big, it's being called "historic."

Higher federal taxes apply to other tobacco products, so even those smokers who have taken to rolling their own to save money can't escape them. (To see how your preferred product is affected, click here.)

The tax -- passed to fund an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program -- is expected to prompt about 1 million smokers to quit.

What's the tobacco tax situation in your state? A table at USA Today lists the total state and federal tax burden in each state. New York leads the pack, so to speak, with a combined $3.76, followed by New Jersey with $3.58 and Massachusetts at $3.52.

(Any smokers planning to visit New York City should bring cigarettes from home. A pack there now costs more than $9. To help people quit, city public health officials are giving away free nicotine patches today.)

On the low side are South Carolina with $1.08 -- remember, that's state and federal combined -- Missouri at $1.18 and Mississippi with a penny more. 

Meanwhile, several states have already raised their tax on tobacco and many others are considering that move, including North Carolina (now $1.36 combined).

Some tobacco companies raised their prices several weeks ago. For instance, the price of a pack of Marlboros jumped 71 cents. Where the price settles depends on the company. Some may absorb part of the tax and others will make smokers carry the entire weight and more.

All of this is causing some grumbling. Brad Schiller in The Wall Street Journal called the tax unfair:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one in five Americans smokes, so the excise targets a minority -- and over half of all smokers are low income, and one of four is officially classified as poor.

Higher prices have also caused a flood of calls to stop-smoking hotlines, The Associated Press reports. Need help? Check out or the American Cancer Society's Guide to Quitting Smoking.

What do you think? Is the tax unfair? We think cancer sticks should have been taxed into extinction years ago, combined with a very strong public and private effort to help smokers quit.

Published April 1, 2009



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