(Madison) There's a new proposal out there that will hopefully keep more young people from smoking and help balance the state's Medicaid deficit. The solution is simple. Raise the cigarette tax.
Michael Mathis has been smoking for 45 years, so he's getting used to seeing the cigarette tax increase. "We're just an easy target for them. It's not like anybody's going to stick up for smokers. They'll just keep sticking it to us, I guess."
The person doing the sticking this time is Republican Representative Doc Hines. He wants to increase the state tax on cigarettes by $1 a pack. Except tax increase is an unpopular word around the Capitol right now, so the extra dollar is a user fee. "A tax to me is something everybody has to pay. A user fee or a tax on cigarettes is something that only the people that purchase cigarettes have to pay."
Mathis disagrees, "User fee across the board is a euphemism for increased taxes."
The increase would bring the cigarette tax to $1.77 a pack in Wisconsin.
Maureen Busalacchi is the Executive Director of Smoke Free Wisconsin. "You need to have a significant increase in price in order to have the public health benefit."
"The intent of this legislation is to get children to not start smoking," says Rep. Hines.
Currently, the 77 cents tax goes towards the state's general revenues. The new tax could raise another $250 million dollars. Under Hines bill, the first $15 million raised will go to tobacco prevention programs. "And if there is additional revenue it has to go for the treatment and help of those people who are already addicted and already created problems through smoking," says Hines.
Fifteen-percent of Wisconsin's Medicaid dollars are spent on tobacco related diseases, and the program is currently in debt. While the money will help, Michael Mathis just doesn't like that it's coming out of his pocket. "If something is done so that the younger people don't start smoking I guess I'm not really against that. I'm just against having to fund that."
Hines says he's expecting a tough fight in the legislature to get this bill passed, but he thinks it can happen.