Coalition Disappointed In Shumlin’s Opposition To Cigarette Tax

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(Host) The Coalition for a Tobacco Free Vermont says it’s disappointed with Governor Peter Shumlin’s efforts to fight a one-dollar increase in the state cigarette tax.

And the Coalition questions how a "health care" governor could oppose their plan.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) After days of intense lobbying by the Governor and his staff, the Senate, on Thursday, voted 16 to 14 to oppose the dollar a pack tax increase.  And then, a day later, with the Governor’s silent approval, the Senate supported a 53 cent tax increase.

Tina Zuk is a spokesperson for the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Vermont.  She says the compromise tax hike won’t be nearly as effective as the original dollar increase.

(Zuk) "We know that you have to have a significant price increase in order to get kids not to smoke and have it be a deterrent so kids don’t buy it and adults want to quit…that going down to anything lower than a 10% increase in the total price of cigarettes is going the wrong way."

(Kinzel) And Zuk says Shumlin’s position is inconsistent with his role as a health care leader.

(Zuk) "I think a major part of health care reform should be prevention and the cigarette tax is great because it covers so many areas…and we’re paying so much money now for the health cost from tobacco we need to do something about this now it raises money now for our budget concerns and the long term health care savings from a dollar increase in the cigarette tax is $82 million and I don’t know why anybody wouldn’t be interested in that."

(Kinzel) Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Shumlin said the state has gotten an additional $5 million in unexpected tobacco revenue this year and that this tax is a key source of money.

(Shumlin) "We got it because we now have in Vermont a cigarette tax that’s considerably lower than New York and competitive with Massachusetts so those folks are coming to our state to buy cigarettes and when they do they come into the store and buy a lot of other things – they gas up the car and they go back to their state with cartons of cigarettes."

(Kinzel) Shumlin says he hopes that more Vermonters will decide to quit smoking and he says his health care plan will make it easier to achieve this goal.

(Shumlin) "I don’t think whether we increase the cigarette tax by 27 cents or a dollar is going to accomplish your goal because we’re going to simply lose revenue by going too high and folks are going to get their cigarettes somewhere else. We need a much more holistic approach…and I think our single payer system will get us there."

(Kinzel) When the House passed its tax bill, it increased the cigarette tax by 27 cents a pack. So now a House – Senate conference committee will meet to try to reach a compromise agreement on this issue.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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