Wyoming lawmakers propose two tobacco tax increases

2013-01-15T22:00:00Z 2013-01-15T22:17:19Z Wyoming lawmakers propose two tobacco tax increasesBy KYLE ROERINK Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

CHEYENNE -- Some Wyoming lawmakers are proposing to raise the taxes on a pack of smokes and a can of chew.

With all of the state’s penny pinching and budget cutting, the taxes would come at a time when lawmakers are desperately looking for new revenue sources to fund programs such as Medicaid. One proposal is a $1 hike that would increase current tax rates to $1.60 per pack of cigarettes.

Rep. Gerald Gay, R-Casper, is the principal sponsor of the bill. It has yet to be assigned a committee, but Gay said there are sponsors from both chambers of the Legislature endorsing the bill. Advocates say the tax would raise $22.34 million annually.

“The bottom line is that Wyoming needs to reduce tobacco use rates to improve the lives of its citizens and curtail its state budget and tax burden to its citizens,” said Jason Mincer, government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

Wyoming spends $136 million on health care costs directly related to smoking each year, Mincer said.

“What we’re dealing with is a shortfall on health care funding,” Gay said. “The bill is designed to fund Medicaid, which is a program a lot of these folks who use these products are eligible for.”

Cigarettes won’t be the only tobacco product facing a tax hike. Rep. Lee Filer, D-Laramie, is proposing a tax increase on smokeless tobacco, cigars and other related products. The tax hike would also be $1, but if the product weighs more than an ounce, it is subject to an additional prorated tax.

Filer said the tax increase would not only provide new revenue to the state, it would also create a fund to start a tobacco awareness program for schools in the state.

Filer said that when he was in public school in Arizona, there were programs to educate young students on the dangers of tobacco. Half of the money generated from his legislation would go to substance abuse programs and tobacco prevention programs in schools. The other half would go to the state's general fund, he said.

“Most people I talk to who use tobacco don’t want their children to use tobacco,” he said. “But we still won’t educate our children on the cons of using tobacco. So why not do it?”

Every time the state raises the price of any tobacco product, the usage goes down, Filer said. Wyoming has the third-highest rate of smokeless tobacco use in the country, he said. The rate of smokeless tobacco use among high school males is 24.7 percent, nearly double the 12.8 percent national average.

If the tax increases pass, up to 60 percent of tobacco sales could be either from illegal or counterfeit products, said Mike Moser, executive director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association.

The other alternative is buying products across state lines, he said.

“If you have a state like Idaho that’s tax is 57 cents a pack, and Wyoming will go to ($1.60), that’s about $6 less per carton,” Moser said. “So people start going to the reservation. They start going online. They go to other places.”

Moser said Wyomingites will now drive to Colorado for lottery tickets, marijuana and, if the tax hike passes, cigarettes.

“Addiction is price-driven,” he said. “And they’re going to get that product out of Wyoming. I call it the law of diminishing returns. It’s when taxes are raised so high, you drive demand out of Wyoming.”

Supporters and dissenters butt heads on whether the tax is a user fee or a regressive tax.

“It’s a user tax,” Gay said.

He’s generally opposed to user taxes. But Gay said he supports this one because of its nature.

“It will save us money,” he said.

Tobacco money has bailed us out before, Gay said.

Moser said the tax is not a user fee. “It’s a regressive tax,” he said.

“This is not a time to pass a tax on hard-working Wyomingites,” Moser said.

A user fee is a term people use so they don’t have to say they’re increasing taxes, he said.

“But they’re increasing taxes,” Moser said.

Mincer said it isn’t a regressive tax if people don’t buy the product.

“They don’t have to pay if they quit,” he said. “It will lower their health care costs and increase their income.”

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(17) Comments

  1. 68 Money Pit
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    68 Money Pit - June 11, 2014 7:05 pm
    They don't legislate morality, they just use it as an excuse to increase taxes. They could ban alcohol and tobacco, but the want the money. Since most in office have the money to afford the increase in price, these bills don't really affect them.
  2. 68 Money Pit
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    68 Money Pit - June 10, 2014 6:34 pm
    I'm just against this on principle. Our law makers continue to use the tax code as a supposed way to control citizens behavior. Assuming they have our best interests in mind, it is still irritating/wrong that they use the tax code instead passing a law against said behavior. Of course, I don't assume this. These "sin taxes" are simply a cash cow for them, that raises revenue on the backs of a minority that they know won't defend themselves.
  3. newtown
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    newtown - January 16, 2013 6:34 pm
    Beautiful! Tax 'em big! Watch carlover squirm...
  4. carlover
    Report Abuse
    carlover - January 16, 2013 4:34 pm
    hey speaking the truth, how about you abort that retard your about to have, i dont want spend my tax dollars paying for a kid that will never be able to tie its own shoes.or how about we cut your welfare child care, i did not have it so why should i pay for it. go find daddy the one you found in a bar on saturday night...see if he want to pay for you lack of birth control
  5. Seeking the Truth
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    Seeking the Truth - January 16, 2013 4:04 pm
    Why should my tax dollars be spent helping smokers with thier medical costs. Tax the hell our of these products!
  6. WhereisOT
    Report Abuse
    WhereisOT - January 16, 2013 1:37 pm
    "With all of the state’s penny pinching and budget cutting, the taxes would come at a time when lawmakers are desperately looking for new revenue sources to fund programs such as Medicaid"

    "heartbeat" bills for the stand for unborn "rights" only herd.....After you hit the ground, then you MUST fight the freak republicans from birth to death.....
    A Bring your Uzi to school day.....sex offenders living near schools bill "fails".....Arrest the Federal Gov.....Drug testing for unemployment benefits....as employers refuse to follow drug policies........"right to work" for whatever the criminal corporations decide....All the While moneyed up "welfare queens" in ranching, mining and big oil bleed the State dry....

    Enough to make True Human Beings see red and demand a color change...
  7. rigrat
    Report Abuse
    rigrat - January 16, 2013 7:58 am
    Better start screaming at the Wyoming Church Association since they are totally against any lottery and have their greedy hands around Wyoming legislature's necks.
  8. rigrat
    Report Abuse
    rigrat - January 16, 2013 7:56 am
    When all working folks are in the gulags.
  9. Sassy
    Report Abuse
    Sassy - January 16, 2013 7:56 am
    Wyoming Association of Churches -- You cant legislate morality...............
  10. rigrat
    Report Abuse
    rigrat - January 16, 2013 7:55 am
    Why do you vote Republican? Please enlighten us.You do have a choice you know,unless you are employed in Wyoming.
  11. wyocowboy51
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    wyocowboy51 - January 16, 2013 7:34 am
    If the wyo. state legislature would wake up and pass the bill to have the lottery, they wouldn`t to worry about finding other ways to find supporting things, such as medicaid, road repa, etc. They spend more time & money of the taxpayers money, than necessary. Nebraska has a lot better Hwys. and there Interstates are well maintained, since, they have the revenue from the lottery to support whatever need is needed. When ever I go to a state that has the lottery, i buy tickets which is supporting them.
  12. billy
    Report Abuse
    billy - January 16, 2013 7:26 am
    "dori - How about taxing booze instead!!!! "
    You got that right, let them juicers pay their share to. You know they got that bottle under their seat or in that draw to help them sleep at night after what they do to us keeps them up.
    I quit smoking and I don't drink, so you can get you blood/sweat money some where else. Ha!
  13. Sage52
    Report Abuse
    Sage52 - January 16, 2013 7:24 am
    If you will notice,the Wyoming Church Association is behind much of these taxes and are adamantly against any lottery.
  14. brianvmax
    Report Abuse
    brianvmax - January 16, 2013 7:23 am
    I love how half the money would go into the general fund, just a middle age guy who works his butt off and enjoys a chew now and again, what they take out in social security just jumped $70.00 a month, they keep raising the retirement age, we will have another 10 cents a gallon at the pump and they are going to raise hunting licenses, where does it end?
  15. carlover
    Report Abuse
    carlover - January 16, 2013 4:08 am
    you people are insane, the greed never stops. lets raise tax on milk shakes, and the fat idiot can help pay for the health care he will be using to when they have to take care of his heart attack. from schelping his agenda around to law makers, lets tax the chit out of milk shakes, snickers, and fast food, oh but those wont bring in 22 million and milk shakes, snickers dont get tabacco money, and they cant double dip on milk shakes..and candy sales. still like republicans running wyoming?
  16. dori
    Report Abuse
    dori - January 15, 2013 11:30 pm
    Ya know...smoking cigs is legal! Nobody ever smoked a whole pack and got in their car and had a nicotine induced wreck. How about taxing booze instead!!!! It causes more issues than smoking...like stupidity, accidents that kill people, depression, suicide and liver disease. Just to name a few. Most domestic violence happens after drinking. They aren't going to tax alcohol though, cause then all those lawmakers will have to dig deeper into those pockets of theirs!!
  17. Whitey Kincaid
    Report Abuse
    Whitey Kincaid - January 15, 2013 10:38 pm
    Remind me again why we vote Republican? They're better on taxes? Wyoming's GOP has no problem raising taxes--yet balks at true user-pay funding streams like a lotto or resist extra taxes on extractive industries. They sit on so-called "rainy day" accounts, yet can't or won't define what a rainy day looks like. Gas taxes and tobacco taxes affect poor people the most. Let's say Mr. Filer and Mr. Gay realize their dream of everyone quitting tobacco--where will the revenues to fund their precious government come from then? Of course you know the answer....
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