The health and revenue advantages to raising the cigarette tax are reasons the Kentucky business community “overwhelmingly” supports the policy, Kentucky Chamber Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Ashli Watts told legislators Wednesday.
In her testimony to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, Watts said the large majority of Kentucky Chamber members support an increase in the tax and noted the positive impacts the policy would have on the state.
“It may seem a bit unusual that the state’s largest business association would sit before you and ask you to increase a tax. But we believe increasing the cigarette tax is one of the best and easiest ways to improve the health of Kentuckians. Smoking is not only killing us, it’s bankrupting us,” Watts said.
Watts pointed to Centers for Disease Control data which estimates smoking-related health expenditures cost Kentucky more than $2 billion annually, over $700 million covered by state Medicaid taxpayer dollars, and smoking-attributable economic productivity loss at more than $2.7 billion.
Increasing the cigarette tax, Watts said, could bring in much-needed revenue for the state, but more importantly, it will greatly improve the health of Kentuckians and the state’s workforce.
“Kentucky business leaders know that increasing the cigarette tax will improve our companies’ bottom lines, help us attract new businesses and workers, produce a more productive workforce and most importantly- save lives. Kentucky citizens and the business community overwhelming support this issue, now it is time for our legislators to do the same,” Watts said.
The committee also heard testimony from Dr. Mark Evers, M.D., FACS, Director at the University of Kentucky Healthcare Markey Cancer Center, and Dr. Jason Chesney, M.D., Ph.D., Director at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center.
Chesney aid he is against raising taxes in general, but with the economy hurting in the state and $1,100 per household in taxes paying for smoking-related illnesses, the increase in the cigarette tax is “good healthcare policy.”
Evers stated 28% of Kentucky adults smoke and more than 8,000 pass away in Kentucky each year because of smoking-related illnesses. Increasing the cigarette tax by at least a dollar, Evers said, is one of the most important laws legislators could pass to have a positive impact on health of Kentuckians.
Though originally an information only hearing, after testimony, Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, a Republican from Lexington made a motion for the committee to recommend increasing the cigarette tax by $1. Sen. Danny Carroll, a Republican from Paducah, seconded the motion.