Charleston, WV - The West Virginia Legislature is missing an opportunity to stand up for West Virginia’s expectant mothers and children and against the interests of the tobacco industry. I am disappointed that more lawmakers are not seriously considering a significant increase to the tobacco tax. House Democrats have been advocating for a $1 per pack tax on cigarettes, and a similar increase on other tobacco products, since day one of the 2016 legislative session.
This large increase, as compared to the governor’s proposed $0.45 per pack cigarette tax- a bill that is not even being discussed- is more likely to discourage West Virginians from smoking, will raise millions to help fund the Public Employees Insurance Agency, decrease cancer and other disease rates around the state and fund substance abuse programs.
It would truly be a win-win-win for the State of West Virginia.
When we fail to act on these issues, we fail these West Virginians and many others. The majority of the drivers of the expenses in our state budget moving forward are healthcare related, not just in PEIA, but also in Medicaid.
Substance abuse is killing West Virginia and West Virginia’s future. The substances that are being abused are both illegal and legal. Medicaid pays for 64% of babies delivered in West Virginia. 42% of Medicaid moms smoking through pregnancy. One-third of the babies born in West Virginia are born to mothers who are addicted to illegal drugs.
The evidence is clear that the most effective method of decreasing overall rates of tobacco use is to considerably increase the cost of tobacco products. This will both create and save money that will have a meaningful impact on the physical and fiscal health of the State of West Virginia.
We have seen small increases in the tobacco tax in other states- such as a $0.50 increase in Louisiana and a $0.30 increase in Ohio. Subsequently, the tobacco industry offset the health impact by immediately issuing tobacco coupons in like amounts.
This is why I am calling upon the West Virginia Legislature to increase the cigarette tax by $1 per pack and establish parallel taxes on other tobacco products to protect mothers and the unborn, to benefit the public health of West Virginia, to prevent youth from starting to use this deadly product and to help those who are currently addicted to quit. This will generate millions of dollars of income for the State of West Virginia- enough funding to not only patch but fix PEIA now and into the future and fund substance abuse treatment programs across the state.
I urge the Legislature act on this important issue. It make sense as well as dollars.