MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - As we enter into 2014 and as lawmakers plan their return to Montgomery for the first session of the year, I'd like to throw something out that they should discuss, debate and deliberate -– tobacco use and tobacco tax (or lack thereof) in Alabama.
Now I haven't given up on Medicaid expansion, but this state needs revenue and citizens in good health so maybe, just maybe we can get the political moons to align and get some traction on some changes with tobacco.
According to a study prepared for ADPH in 2011, Alabama had the 7th highest smoking rate out of all 50 states at 22.6% of the population smoking. Alabama at the time of the study had the 5th lowest excise tax on a pack of cigarettes among the same 50 states. I think you know where I'm going with this … might there be an opportunity to lower the percentage of people smoking while at the same time adding millions of dollars in tax revenue to our state coffers by taxing tobacco at a higher rate? The answer is a resounding, yes! This study estimates by increasing the excise tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1 Alabama could generate $213.3 million annually and reduce the number or people that smoke and discourage others from starting because of the cost increases.
This could, should and would be a political win in 2014 for someone if we could get it moving. Let's take a positive step toward reducing smoking by increasing excise taxes, thereby increasing state tax revenue, filling budget gaps in important areas and improving health and mortality in Alabama this year. That's my first challenge to lawmakers in the New Year.