By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On September 16, a Republican supermajority in both Houses of the Alabama Legislature voted to raise taxes. The legislature passed the state general fund (SGF) budget on Wednesday night while most people were watching the Republican Presidential Debate. Many conservatives are lamenting that majorities of GOP lawmakers broke campaign pledges to not raise taxes. The biggest of those taxes was a tobacco tax increase that will raise the price of a pack of cigarettes by 25 cents and generate an additional $66 million a year for the long troubled general fund. The American Cancer Society (ACS) is lamenting that they did not raise the tax more.
The Alabama government relations director for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), Ginny Campbell said 25 cent a pack increase on will fail to have any significant health impact in Alabama. Director Campbell said in a written statement; “Alabama lawmakers made an irresponsible and disappointing decision to pass a cigarette tax increase too small to save lives and protect kids. By passing a paltry 25-cent increase, lawmakers missed a chance to reduce tobacco use and, therefore, tobacco-related diseases, like cancer.”
Campbell lamented, “The Legislature had a chance to save lives and stop kids from smoking but this tax increase is simply too low to have those kinds of powerful health impacts. We expect the tobacco industry to use a portion of their $2 million per year marketing budget in Alabama to offer discounts, coupons and giveaways to offset the price per pack increase.”
Campbell said that, “Increasing the price of tobacco is one of the most effective ways to prevent kids from becoming addicted to these deadly products and to help encourage those already addicted to quit. Lawmakers’ failure to take full advantage of this opportunity is unacceptable. We will continue to work with legislators to better protect the health of Alabamians. Tobacco is the number one cause of preventable death nationwide. This year alone, an estimated 8,600 Alabamians will die from tobacco-related cancers and the state will pay close to $1.9 billion in smoking-caused health costs.”
Senate Sponsor Gerald Dial (R from Lineville) had tried to amend the bill on the Senate floor to include taxes on vapor products and cigars as well as on cigarettes; but that effort failed.
On March 1, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) proposes raising the taxes on cigarettes and tobacco. A pack of cigarettes would have cost 82.5 cents more under the original plan. This alone would have produced another $205 million in revenue for the state general fund (SGF). The legislature’s 25 cents a pack tobacco tax, $400 per nursing home bed tax, pharmacy tax, and $80 million raid of the Education Trust Fund (ETF) combined was only able to raise $156 million in additional dollars for the SGF. The legislature is making up the difference with budget cuts to a number of general fund agencies. Convenience store owners warned the legislature that such a large increase would have meant lost sales as people, especially those who live close to the state line, did their shopping in other states where cigarettes are more affordable.
Alabama currently has one of the lowest cigarette tax rates in the country and the 25 cents a pack increase only moves Alabama from the third lowest tobacco tax in the country to the fourth lowest.
ACS CAN is the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society. They say that they supports evidence-based policy and legislative solutions designed to eliminate cancer as a major health problem and works to encourage elected officials and candidates to make cancer a top national priority.
For more information visit their website: www.acscan.org