JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - The plea to increase the state cigarette tax is again echoing through the halls of the State Capitol.
Supporters believe the increase would save lives and hundreds of millions in healthcare costs, all while deterring tobacco use.
Healthcare advocates and smoking opponents returned to the State Capitol Wednesday urging lawmakers to increase the cigarette tax by $1.50.
Invest in a Healthier Future represents more than 30 organizations and according to the coalition, smoking costs the state $1.23 billion in direct healthcare annually, including nearly $320 million in Medicaid costs.
Public Opinion Strategies conducted a statewide telephone survey of 500 registered voters from October 27th to the 29th and the poll indicated that more than 73 percent surveyed supported the tax increase.
“$1.50 a pack state tax would force thousands of Mississippians to stop smoking and prevent thousands of others from ever starting to smoke -- especially in our teens and younger population,” said MS State Medical Association president Dr. Michael Mansour.
Supporters of a higher tax say smoking kills an estimated 5,400 Mississippians each year.
The current state tax on a pack of cigarettes is 68 cents. The national average is $1.78.
“I don’t know if it would make me quit because I’ve been to other states before where they’re $10.00, $15.00 a pack and I bought them at that price,” said smoker Ethan Daniels.
The 24-year-old said the proposed tax increase is a good move.
Another Jackson smoker who did not want to be identified said his father smokes and he began smoking with his friends.
“I know a lot of people that would be bothered by that, but I don’t see it as a problem personally because I’m trying to quit," said the smoker. "So maybe prices going up, more people will stop smoking.”
Mississippi’s cigarette tax ranks 40th in the nation. Lawmakers approved the last tax increase in 2009.