South Carolina - most residents support raising the tobacco tax..

December 20, 2009 - South Carolina ranks 44th nationally in funding smoking prevention programs, but upping the state's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax by 50 cents could generate $139 million a year, including $5 million to keep people off tobacco, supporters said.

“This year, South Carolina will collect $113 million from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend less than 2 percent on prevention,” said Geri Guy, a University of South Carolina graduate student. “And tobacco companies spend $282.6 million a year to market their products in South Carolina.”

Guy and others were at Greenville Family Partnership (GFP) to release a new report on state prevention funding which shows South Carolina spent $3.2 million this year — $2 million in state funds and a $1.2 million federal grant.

State Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Walhalla, said most settlement money has been spent on Medicaid to attract a federal 3-1 funding match.

The state cigarette tax is 7 cents a pack — unchanged since 1977 — though the national average is $1.34, he said. And a proposal to raise it 50 cents should be taken up early next session. Alexander said at least $5 million of the tax revenues should go to prevention because each prevention dollar saves $3 in health care costs. He added tobacco kills 6,100 South Carolinians and costs the state $1.1 billion in health-care expenditures every year.

And he said that for every 10 percent increase in price, youth smoking is cut by 7 percent. Nearly 18 percent of high school students smoke now, and every year 5,500 more start. Alexander: “It will save lives,” he said, adding his own father died 25 years ago of cancer caused by smoking."

Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, said most South Carolinians support raising the tax.

“For nine years we've been trying to pass a cigarette tax increase,” said Carol Reeves, president of GFP. “This year, we've got to do it.”

The tax has lost so far because the tobacco lobby has fought it, many legislators pledged to not raise taxes, and Gov. Mark Sanford said he will veto any increase unless the revenues offset other taxes, Alexander and Fair said.

Sanford vetoed last year's attempt and an override was unsuccessful. But Alexander said he thinks there are enough votes to pass the tax hike and override a veto in 2010.

“My hope is that our colleagues will join us,” he said, “because every year, every month, every week the tax is not increased, there are additional kids being addicted to cigarettes.”

Reference: Coalition pushes for more funds for anti-smoking efforts Groups say state's low ranking shows need to up tobacco tax by Liv Osby, Health Writer,, 12/19/2009.

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