Paducah Sun editor calls for higher cigarette tax in Kentucky

The executive editor of a West Kentucky newspaper known for its conservative editorials is taking a stand against cigarette taxes, but not in the way you might expect.

In a Sunday column, Steve Wilson of The Paducah Sun lambasted the state’s low cigarette tax of 60 cents per pack.

“The average tax in all states is now $1.65 a pack. The tax in neighboring Illinois is $1.98. New York has the nation’s highest at $4.35,” Wilson writes. “With a tax so much less, Kentucky is not doing right by its citizens in terms of revenue, public health and health-care costs.”

Noting that Kentucky has the second-highest smoking rate in the country, 26.5 percent, Wilson suggests that a higher cigarette tax would generate greater revenue for the state and would spark a decline in smoking.

“If people have to pay more for cigarettes, they are less likely to buy them. That’s especially true for younger smokers who have lower incomes and are less addicted. And when people smoke less, the benefits to their health and the state’s health care costs are huge,” he says.

Wilson cites research indicating that health-care costs directly related to smoking in Kentucky are nearly $2 billion a year. He says the state’s annual Medicaid costs related to smoking are almost $600 million and paid by taxpayers.

The state set up a Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform in 2012. It spent nearly a year evaluating Kentucky’s tax policies and recommended a 40-cent raise, to $1 a pack, which would have brought the state an extra $120 million a year, but the General Assembly didn’t bite. Wilson advocates passing that 40-cent increase now and committing a portion of the revenue to smoking-cessation programs.

“Given the staunch anti-tax attitude of the legislature and governor, an increase of any amount is a long shot in the next session,” he writes. “It’s so much easier for the lawmakers to do nothing and proudly say they stand firm against all tax increases. What they don’t say is that such a low tax helps maintain a high rate of smoking, the nation’s highest rate of smoking illness and ever-increasing medical bills pushed on the backs of taxpayers.”

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