Governer Steve Beshear of Kentucky recently announced a number of tax reform measures for the state to update what he calls “an archaic tax code that was designed for a 20th century economy.” Among other changes, Beshear is pushing for a $1 raise in tobacco cigarette taxes and the taxing of electronic cigarettes — though little is said beyond that the plan pushes for it to happen.
Beshear argues that heavier taxing of cigarettes and electronic cigarettes will contribute to a healthier workforce — heavily implying that electronic cigarettes are a health concern big enough for state-level intervention.
This sounds a lot like Beshear is attempting to make the state look more up to date on tobacco issues. This might sound more like progress if Kentucky wasn’t the second largest tobacco producing state and its current tax rate on cigarettes wasn’t 40th in the nation. In fact, bringing the state cigarette tax up to $1.60 a pack (where the tax will be after adding a dollar) still only puts the state just a hair inside a grade of C by the American Lung Association’s state tobacco control standards.
It’s hard to claim this as a major step forward when it hardly even catches up to the present for most tobacco control expectations. Throwing a tax on electronic cigarettes and claiming that they are a health hazard like conventional cigarettes only shows how unprogressive the state is being in its approach to tobacco control, tobacco harm reduction, and cessation assistance.
Louisville newspaper The Courier-Journal covered the governor’s announcement of the plan and you can watch it right here.
The residents of the state might not like these proposed changes — particularly increased taxes against cigarettes. Kentucky and North Carolina together produce around two-thirds of the nation’s tobacco. Depending on the figures you look at, Kentucky is around first or second in the nation for highest adult smoking rate which clocks in around 29% (and apparently far and away takes the title for smoking-related deaths).
Clearly, tobacco and smoking are not easy topics in the state.
It is admirable that Beshear is making steps towards updating Kentucky’s tax system. The state is certainly not known for progressive legislation and action — particularly when it comes to tobacco. However, in attempting to look progressive by tackling new technology (e-cigs), Beshear may actually be setting the state back in tobacco harm reduction.