A Mississippi lawmaker is promoting a bill that would increase the tobacco tax by $1.50. He says it's not about making money but saving it.
University of Mississippi Medical Center Students are at the state capitol to support Senate Bill 2701. The measure would increase the cigarette tax by $1.50 to $2.18. Mary Elizabeth Butts is a 3rd year medical student. Every day she sees patients with chronic smoking-related illnesses.
"We see things like COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which once you have it, it's there, you're never going to get rid of it. And that's typically what our patients who get that end up dying from. Obviously cancer is a huge one. And then a lot of times too it causes people a lot of heart problems, congestive heart failure" said Butts.
Butts says studies show a tax hike of $1.00 or more encourages people to quit smoking because of the cost. That's what Republican Senator Brice Wiggins is hoping for. He chairs the Medicaid Committee and wrote the bill. Wiggins says 750,000 Mississippians are covered by Medicaid and smoking-related illnesses are costly to treat. The state provides $1 billion in funding annually along with $6 billion from the federal government. Wiggins says raising the tax could help people quit smoking, lead to better health outcomes and save taxpayer dollars.
"If these beneficiaries are going to get coverage and treated and have it paid by the state, then it's a question of fairness. On the private level you pay an increased premium, consider this a premium for smokers who are in the Medicaid division," said Wiggins.
The Mississippi Department of Health reports the state ranks 5th in the nation for smoking prevalence. Revenue from the cigarette tax would fund smoking cessation programs and pay Medicaid deficits.