Standing in the Lanman-Wright courtyard with a cigarette in his hand, Jorge Tenreiro ’03 said he thinks a higher cigarette tax is a good idea.
“When you’re addicted you just can’t stop buying,” Tenreiro said, taking a drag. “You just incorporate [the tax] into your spendings.”
Tenreiro said the tax would probably not deter him from buying cigarettes but added that people should not be smoking in the first place — and that he has unsuccessfully tried to quit several times in the past year.
The state Legislature Appropriations Committee will vote within the next two weeks on a bill that would double the state’s 50-cent cigarette tax and raise approximately $112 million in funds for anti-smoking programs. The bill was recently passed by the Public Health Committee but may face heated opposition from legislators reluctant to impose higher taxes.
Margaret LaCroix, vice president of communications for the American Lung Association of Connecticut, said the money raised from the bill would be crucial for deterring younger children, rather than just adults, from buying cigarettes.
In Connecticut, the average age when children start smoking is 11, LaCroix said.
“The tax is a pretty significant impact for a kid who doesn’t even work,” LaCroix said. “When you try to buy consider the millions of dollars tobacco companies are spending in marketing, I think we need any possible tool we can think of to strike back.”
Speaking from personal experience, state Rep. Carl Dickman said he believes the measure would be ineffective. Dickman started smoking when he was 10 and only kicked the habit recently, after more than 50 years of addiction.
“You stop smoking when you want to stop smoking, and this is not the way to stop smokers,” Dickman said, calling the bill “naive.”
But supporters said this type of tax increase has a proven track record in other states.
State Rep. Mary Eberle, co-chair of the Public Health Committee, said similar state anti-smoking programs have been successful in Massachusetts and California.
Eberle dismissed the concerns of some legislators that a tax increase would be politically unpopular, saying cigarette taxes should not be compared with income taxes.
“You choose to pay because you choose to smoke,” Eberle said.
Dickman rejected this claim, saying the comparison is valid.
“If you choose to work, you choose to pay an income tax,” Dickman, a Republican, said. He added that tax increases are always undesirable.
State Sen. Toni Harp, who is co-chair of the Public Health Committee and was a major backer of the bill, could not be reached for comment.