Someone very powerful in Pennsylvania doesn’t want to see a state tax collected on cigar sales.
How else would you explain most state lawmakers’ otherwise illogical resistance to collecting a reasonable tax on the products — linked to cancers of the larynx, lungs, lips, mouth and throat — and then using the revenue to help prevent young people from picking up the potentially deadly habit?
When it comes to big stogie sales, notions about doing what’s best for public health seemingly take a back seat to mumbo jumbo about job preservation and commerce. Certain lawmakers back away from any proposed cigar tax as if they’d been asked to vote on a permanent legislative pay cut or to disappoint a fat-cat campaign donor.
Even several of Luzerne County’s contingent of state officials, many of whom say they wholeheartedly support other anti-tobacco efforts, draw the line at cigars, sounding as if they represent the interests of old Virginny, not the cancer-prone populace of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Cigarettes have been taxed in this commonwealth since 1935.
Cigars still get a pass.
Enacted as a “temporary emergency” measure, the cigarette tax in Pennsylvania was made permanent in 1951.
Cigar tax proposals have been snuffed out as recently as 2010.
Cigarette buyers in Pennsylvania today pay $1.60 in state tax for each pack of 20 cigs.
Cigar buyers pay no excise tax to the Keystone State.
Pennsylvania remains one of only two states, the other being Florida, that do not tax cigars. The issue again rose to the forefront with the recent release of the American Lung Association’s 2014 “State of Tobacco Control” report. It found Pennsylvania policy falls short of its potential in promoting clean air and in adequately funding “prevention programs that help keep our kids off tobacco,” said Deb Brown, CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, based in Camp Hill.
Pennsylvania funds its tobacco-control programs at only 11 percent of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, which calls for an outlay of $155 million.
Meanwhile, more than 392,000 people in the United States die each year from tobacco-caused disease, according to the American Lung Association, referring to it as “the leading cause of preventable death.”
“Another 50,000 people die from exposure to secondhand smoke,” according to the association.
State Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston, said unequivocally she would vote for a cigar tax, making her the exception among several state lawmakers in Luzerne County to respond for an article in Sunday’s edition of The Times Leader. Mundy has announced her pending retirement from the House.
Others did not reply, supplied non-answers or expressed concerns about a cigar tax because of its possible ramifications on cigar factory workers in Scranton and the overall cigar industry in Pennsylvania, which apparently has found the state’s business environment to be hospitable. Online retailer Cigars International, based in Bethlehem, bills itself as “the King Kong of cigar companies.” Its website states the company “is comprised of over 250 highly valued employees and we’re growing with each waking day.”
For now, it seems the health and survival of Pennsylvania’s cigar industry remains a chief concern of the majority of state lawmakers, topping worries about even the health and survival of young people just now toying with the idea of lighting up for the first time.