Legislative committee considering increasing cigarette taxes for first time since 2003
By Stephen Dow
The Sheridan Press
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
SHERIDAN — The Wyoming Legislature’s Revenue Committee will spend a portion of its interim session considering whether to increase the state’s cigarette tax for the first time since 2003.
During its first meeting of the interim in Lander April 28, the committee voted to create a bill draft to be considered at its next meeting in September. The draft will have a placeholder number, with the actual amount of the tax increase to be determined during the September meeting, legislators said. Ideas shared at the April meeting ranged from increasing the tax by a few cents to doubling it. Currently, the tax sits at 60 cents for a 20-cigarette pack.
The state cigarette tax was first implemented in 1951, when it was $0.001 per cigarette or just two cents for a 20-cigarette pack, according to an April 7 memo from the Legislative Service Office. Since then, it has been raised on several occasions. Most recently, it was raised in 2003 to the current rate.
Wyoming remains behind most other states in its cigarette tax rate and is currently tied with Virginia for 44th lowest cigarette tax, according to a January 2022 report from the Federation of Tax Administrators. Only Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, North Dakota and North and South Carolina have lower cigarette tax rates.
Currently cigarette taxes run the gamut from 17 cents for a 20-cigarette pack in Missouri to $4.35 for a pack in New York, according to the FTA.
While he doesn’t feel the need to approach a New York-level of taxation, Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, said he felt the time was right for the increase.
“I’m interested in bringing tobacco taxes higher to curb usage of tobacco,” Pappas said. “…I think we ought to think about raising them to a point where it becomes difficult for our youth to purchase them…I, for one, believe we should increase it. I’m to the point where I think we should double it. But again, we can discuss that number at a later date.”
Similarly, Richard Garrett — the Wyoming and South Dakota state government relations director for the American Heart Association — said the time is right to enforce a “meaningful” cigarette tax.
“If you do consider…an amendment to the existing tax, I’d urge you to make it a meaningful one: a tax that will deter young people in particular from adopting… a habit that can impact their health for the rest of their lives,” Garrett said. “Our research shows us a meaningful tax truly does have an impact on reducing tobacco consumption by teenagers, in particular.”
According to a 2020 National Institutes of Health report, every 10% increase in the price of tobacco is expected to decrease tobacco consumption by 4%.
Marguerite Herman, legislative liaison for the League of Women Voters, said a decrease in consumption would lead to a significant increase in public health.
“There’s an argument to be made that…the real payoff is the number of adolescents who do not start to smoke (and form) a lifelong addiction with huge health impacts, and a big impact on the public health costs to the state of Wyoming,” Herman said.
Smoking can cause cancer, heart disease, strokes, lung diseases, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking also increases the risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis.
In addition to the positive health impacts that could come with a tax increase, the change could be financially beneficial for the state as well.
Cigarette tax revenues are currently distributed 85% to the state’s general fund and 15% to local governments, and both would see an increase in funding if the tax was increased, said Josh Anderson with the Legislative Service Office. According to a 2021 report of the Department of Revenue, the cigarette tax resulted in $13.03 million to the general fund and $2.30 million to local governments in 2021 alone.
The proposed increase to the cigarette tax will be discussed again at the revenue committee’s next meeting in Casper on Sept. 14 and 15.