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Letter: Tobacco taxes should be raised

Hey! I have a great idea! Let’s raise a tax on something,” said no North Dakota legislator ever.

Wow! Raising a tax on anything, with North Dakota being so flush from oil money, just doesn’t make any sense at all.

And yet, taxes (or fees if you want a more politically correct term) do continue to inch up here and there.

During the 2013 legislative session, North Dakota lawmakers passed a bill that increased fees for many hunting and fishing licenses.

A tax is generally imposed to gain funds to pay for specific services or products: “It is a compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government on workers’ income and business profits or added to the cost of some goods, services, and transactions.”

As said, to raise a tax in North Dakota today just doesn’t seem to make any sense, unless it’s a tax to protect the health of our residents, prevent disease and thwart kids from starting a path of extremely unhealthy behavior.

OK, I’ve beat around the bush long enough. I have read a lot about the idea of increasing the tobacco tax in North Dakota, and I am totally in favor of such an action. Here’s why:

The tobacco tax in North Dakota is one of the lowest in the nation (we are 46th at 44 cents per pack of 20 cigarettes), the lower-than-us states include: Missouri at 17 cents; Louisiana at 36 cents; Georgia at 37 cents and Alabama at 42 cents.

Our tobacco tax hasn’t increased since 1993.

The effects of North Dakotans’ tobacco use also affects the wallets of those who don’t use tobacco. North Dakota’s annual health care costs directly caused by smoking are $326 million. The portion covered by state Medicaid is $47 million.

But the most important reason is that a higher tobacco tax encourages people to quit and discourages younger folks from starting. According to the Tobacco Free Kids organization, “tobacco tax increases are one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking and other tobacco use, especially among kids. Every 10 percent increase in cigarette prices reduces youth smoking by about seven percent and total cigarette consumption by about four percent.”

For all the work being done by public health and health advocacy organizations, raising the tobacco tax is win-win.

I think it’s about time the North Dakota legislators started having a serious talk about this rather serious idea.