Politicians are constantly looking for ways to solve budget problems. Democratic state Sen. Martin Looney believes he has found one that will also serve the meaningful public purpose of curbing smoking.
Looney said he is suggesting that the state double its tax to $1 to boost revenue for the state and because it would also have a notable public health benefit. He said that if implemented, the program could raise $110 million for Connecticut during the fiscal year.
“The cigarette tax in Connecticut is now lower than the cigarette tax in other states,” he said.
According to Looney, New York charges a $1.11 tax per pack of cigarettes, while Rhode Island taxes $1 and Massachusetts $.76. Connecticut currently charges only a $.50 tax per pack.
Looney said every increase in the cigarette tax in other states has led to a decline in consumption, and said Connecticut is encouraging smoking if it does not raise its cigarette tax.
Chris Cooper, a spokesman for Gov. John G. Rowland, said Rowland would look carefully at the plan drawn up by the Democratic leadership if it was proposed to him as part of the solution to the budget deficit.
“Generally, the governor is not in favor of raising any taxes,” Cooper said.
Yale students had mixed reactions to the proposal. James Wu ’05 said that although he is a smoker, he would like to quit and thinks Looney’s proposal is a good idea.
“When it all comes down to it, cigarettes kill, so I think doubling the tax is a good way to solve the current budget problem and decrease the amount of teen smoking,” Wu said.
Not all smokers agreed. Pamela Duque ’05 said she thinks more advanced planning by the government would spare smokers the annoyance of spending more funds.
“If the aim [of the plan] is truly to better the health of the people, we needn’t target solely the smokers,” she said.
She added that other problems such as alcoholism would not be impacted by Looney’s plan.
But Looney said it was possible to avoid this tax entirely by simply not purchasing cigarettes. He cited the positive effects of tax hikes in other states and said doubling the cigarette tax in Connecticut would be “in line” with what other states are doing.
Eileen Daily, a Democratic state representative, said Looney’s proposal is a health issue more than a revenue issue.
“There is a great deal of support from both [Republicans and Democrats],” Daily said of the proposal.
The Legislature’s Finance Committee, of which Looney and Daily are members, is currently discussing the idea. Looney said he hopes the plan will take effect on July 1 of next year if approved by the state.
The potential tax hike could also affect the sales of cigarette merchants. Sanjay Patil, manager of College Wine on College Street, said he believes his store will not be significantly impacted by a tax increase.
“The people who are going to smoke are going to smoke anyway,” he said.
Patil added that higher prices per pack might deter people from taking up smoking.
Joe Lentine, a manager at the College Street tobacco store Owl Shop, agreed that price is not a reason for addicted smokers to quit.
“With things like alcohol and tobacco, people will by and large continue to buy,” Lentine said.
Lentine said the tax might have “a small effect” on his business.