Wyoming Tobacco Tax Increase Loses Committee Vote
A bill to increase the state tax on a pack of cigarettes by a dollar fell short in the Wyoming House Revenue Committee Monday morning on a 5-4 vote.
Committee members heard from a long list of health organizations including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and numerous other groups in favor of the tax, more often on health grounds than by arguing the tax would increase state revenues. Supporters of the bill said the tax increase would save lives by discouraging smoking, arguing in many cases that a dollar a pack increase is large enough to have an impact on smoking and tobacco rates.
Sheila Bush of the Wyoming Medical Society said beyond the obvious human cost of people suffering from serious or fatal diseases related to tobacco use, just under $50 million in Medicaid money is spent every year in caring for Wyoming residents suffering from such illnesses.
Three Cody High School students who are members of the ''Youth For Justice" group testified that raising the state tobacco tax would be an effective deterrent to young people smoking, because in the words of one of the students ''We aren't made of money."
But opponents of the proposal argued that raising the tobacco tax would only encourage people to buy cigarettes in neighboring states, the Wind River Indian Reservation, the black market or online to avoid paying the state tax.
Former state lawmaker Pete Illoway of Cheyenne, speaking for the Wyoming Taxpayers Association told the committee that Wyoming cigarette smokers contributed $83.5 million 2016 in taxes when federal taxes that come back to the state are counted, not including snuff and some other tobacco products.
He said studies clearly show that tobacco users will purchase tobacco somewhere else if Wyoming retailers are forced to collect an extra dollar in sales taxes.
The final tally in the committee showed proponents of the tax increase falling a single vote short in their quest to get the tax approved.