Of course South Carolina needs to raise its cigarette tax. This clearly is one instance where a higher tax is a good thing - especially if it means lower taxes elsewhere.
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has it right: Raise the state's cigarette tax by 30 cents - generating $107 million, by the governor's estimate - then include a recommendation in the budget that the money be returned in the form of a $205 million income tax cut.
A lower income tax? What's not to like about that?
South Carolina has the nation's lowest cigarette tax at a paltry 7 cents. Since 2001, nearly every U.S. state has raised its tax on smokes. Even North Carolina, the nation's No. 1 tobacco producer, wised up and jacked its tax to 35 cents. State governments know that cigarette taxes are great revenue generators.
Pity the poor smoker, opponents say. They would be unfairly targeted with a higher cigarette tax. "Why do we have to have this tax on the smokers? You're taking it from this small group - this is like profiling," state Rep. Jim Battle, D-Nichols, said earlier this year when a similar measure was defeated.
"Small group," eh? Since when is one out of four South Carolinians a small group?
You know what this "small group" does? It places an $850 million state tax burden on South Carolinians every year because of health-care costs related to tobacco use. That's about $545 per household. Thanks, smokers.
There's yet another benefit to raising the cigarette tax: Overall smoking drops. Studies show that every 10-percent increase in the cost of cigarettes comes with a 4- to 7-percent drop in consumption. It's already shown to be happening in North Carolina. Think of how much easier you could breathe over here.
South Carolina legislators need to see through all the smoke and realize that a higher cigarette tax is the healthier alternative for its state budget. Let smokers cough up the extra money.
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