Our Views: Hike taxes on smokes

The resurrection of the idea of a cigarette tax increase owes more to mathematics than public health: Gov. Bobby Jindal is looking at potential sources of revenue to balance cuts in the income tax.

But that balancing act could lead the governor and legislators to look more strongly at an increase in tobacco taxes.

Whatever the source of the idea, there are solid potential benefits for the state in a higher tax on the leading source of lung cancer. While it is not a growth tax, as smoking is going down, the long-term costs of addiction and illness are substantial, when one includes treatment for the many health problems associated with smoking.

Many other states have raised cigarette taxes significantly, even Mississippi — our longtime competitor in the lower end of the range among the states. And the Mississippi increase was signed into law by then-Gov. Haley Barbour, the former lobbyist for a major cigarette maker.

How much Jindal might — emphasis, might — support in the way of an increase is not clear, although an aide noted that the administration is researching how much of an increase could affect consumer behavior.

That is a key point. Advocates of higher cigarette taxes have demonstrated over the years that teen smoking goes down as the price per pack goes up.

Andrew Muhl, government relations director for the American Cancer Society of Louisiana, said he favors a $1-per-pack increase with the money dedicated to tobacco prevention and cessation and other health care-related expenses.

“Tobacco tax increases are one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking and other tobacco use, especially among kids,” Muhl said.

That is why the state should have followed the lead of more progressive states in the past years with cigarette tax increases.

We urge lawmakers, whether the administration’s revenue equation requires it or not, to consider tax hikes on tobacco products.