Opponents and supporters are clashing over a proposed tax hike to a pack of cigarettes. As Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports, the provision will most likely be a focal point in the debate over the governor’s budget update.
A group of health professionals from around Ohio gathered in the Statehouse Thursday to lend their support for Gov. John Kasich’s budget update, which includes more support to help people quit smoking and an increase to the cigarette tax.
Dr. Craig Thiele with CareSource, a managed care company, spoke in support of Kasich’s proposed tax to add 60 cents per pack.
“There’s too much tobacco in Ohio," Thiele said. "Almost 2 million Ohioans smoke. On average, 343 packs of cigarettes are sold per smoker per year in Ohio -- and we start young.”
Thiele said the tax is an effective way to stop people from smoking.
“I think it will have an impact," he said. "Research supports that. It also supports that it’ll help people quit and it’ll help people not start.”
Opponents to the plan have said an increase to cigarettes places a clear burden on low-income Ohioans. Phil Cole doesn’t see it that way. He’s executive director of the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, a group that works to fight poverty and help poor families.
While Cole admits that the majority of smokers are of low income, he urges that the majority of poor Ohioans are not smokers.
“It may hit them disproportionately greater as a group, since a higher percentage of low-income people smoke than in other income brackets," Cole said. "But the group does not pay the tax. And it’s still a choice for every individual and it’s still a minority within that group.”
Cole said the habit is already unaffordable regardless of the proposed tax increase. He adds that advocates should stop assuming that low-income Ohioans are helpless on this issue.
“People of lower incomes have the ability to make the decision to stop smoking," he said. "Just like people of higher incomes can make that decision. Do not sell people short because they have less money than you. If this tax is an incentive to help people quit, then it’s a good thing for them and it’s a good thing for Ohio.”
Other opponents to Kasich’s plan say the increase should’ve been even higher than 60 cents a pack.
Micah Berman, a health professor at Ohio State University, agreed that a higher tax would get even more people to quit but that didn’t change support for the current plan.
“A higher tax is always going to have a greater impact so that’s always going to be true" Berman said. "But again we’re here to support this proposal and express our opinion that this tax will -- as proposed -- have a significant health impact.”
The doctors also touched on the provisions in the governor’s budget update that would allocate nearly $27 million to the department of Health in order to implement a five-year plan for tobacco prevention and cessation programs.