Cigarette tax receive support

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Adam Lau /
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Cardiovascular surgeon Mitchell Lirtzman speaks Wednesday to students rallying on the steps of the Louisiana State Capitol in support of increasing Louisiana's tobacco tax Wednesday.

Dressed in bright red colors on a windy day, legislators and others gathered on the State Capitol steps Wednesday in a show of support for a state tobacco tax increase.

The likely fate of their efforts is unclear.

The House Committee on Ways and Means will start looking at various proposals next week. The proposals include increases of 24 cents, 32 cents and $1.05 in the state tax on a pack of cigarettes.

Gov. Bobby Jindal initially backed a tobacco tax hike when it was part of his broader effort to eliminate the state’s personal income and corporate taxes.

The governor yanked his tax plan last week and asked legislators to pursue state income tax repeal on their own. Leading House Republicans rejected his directive.

“Our tax plan contained a revenue neutral cigarette tax increase. No cigarette tax increases being considered by the Legislature at this time are revenue neutral, and we will not support any net increase in taxes,” the governor said Wednesday in a prepared statement.

A smoking ban won easy advancement Wednesday. Legislators pushing cigarette tax increases said they expect a harder road for their bills.

The Senate Committee on Health and Welfare advanced Senate Bill 36 to ban smoking on the campuses of the state’s public colleges and universities.

SB36 sponsor, state Sen. David Heitmeier, said afterward that he plans to exempt tailgaters from the ban.

“It’s going to be called the game day amendment,” joked Heitmeier, D-New Orleans.

Several legislators still are pushing ahead with their efforts to increase the 36 cent state tax on a pack of cigarettes despite the governor’s warning that he is unfavorable to their tax hikes.

“You’d think being a funeral director, I’d have the sense not to light up a cigarette. But you’ve heard of the addiction of nicotine,” state Rep. Harold Ritchie told a crowd of anti-smoking supporters on the State Capitol steps.

Ritchie, a heavy smoker, filed House Bill 417 to increase the state cigarette tax by $1.05 a pack.

He said the state needs to increase the tax by more than a dollar to convince children never to start smoking.

“(An additional) 30 cents won’t stop addiction. It needs to be $1.05,” said Ritchie, D-Bogalusa.

Physician Wayne Gravois said Louisiana spends more than $1 billion a year on health care costs directly related to smoking.

State Sen. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, said he is passionate about stamping out smoking because he used to be a smoker.

“It’s been over 40 years since I quit smoking, and I still have some of the ramifications from it,” he said.

Southeastern Louisiana University student Rene Toomer, 23, drew the words “Save Our Precious Children” onto a poster and held it aloft while Hoffmann and others spoke.

Toomer, a health education student, said she never got to know her grandfather because he died of lung cancer when she was a baby.

“I’m here because I did lose my grandfather,” she said.

Later in the day, state Rep. Kirk Talbot said he would forge ahead with House Bill 304 to increase the cigarette tax to 60 cents a pack.

Talbot, R-River Ridge, said he is open to increasing the proposed hike even higher if he can get the bill to the House floor.

State Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, said he will delay pushing House Bill 235 to increase the state cigarette tax to $1.41 a pack.

“I’ve kind of got it on hold until I see how the others do,” he said.