Committee kills tobacco tax increase

CHEYENNE — Lawmakers narrowly killed a proposal Monday that would have increased the tax on tobacco products in Wyoming in an effort to raise revenue and cut smoking rates.

The House’s Revenue Committee voted 5-4 to drop the bill, which had been sponsored by Cheyenne Republican Rep. Dan Zwonitzer. It would’ve taxed cigarettes at $1.60 per pack, up from the current charge of 60 cents, and increased the excise tax on snuff, cigars and other tobacco products.

The measure had the support of the lobbying group the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network — which had hoped to broaden the bill to include e-cigarettes and similar products — but Zwonitzer told the Star-Tribune that some members of the committee thought the increase was too high.

“Certainly the heart association and the cancer society were looking ... to send that kind of message, that sticker shock, to have that decrease in the level of consumption,” he said. “The committee felt that was too high.”

Zwonitzer voted yes, as did Reps. Cathy Connolly, JoAnn Dayton-Selman and Jim Roscoe. It was killed by no votes from Reps. Jim Blackburn, Tim Hallinan, Dan Laursen, Pat Sweeney and Cyrus Western.

Jason Mincer, who lobbies for the Cancer Action Network, said he was disappointed by the decision. He said he didn’t want to speculate on the reasons why the committee voted it down, adding that lawmakers did not publicly discuss it during the committee meeting Monday.

“This is a bill that saves lives and keeps people from getting cancer, and each year we don’t pass it is another year that additional folks are getting diagnosed,” he said. “It’s difficult when we aren’t taking control of our tobacco use rates in Wyoming.”

Mincer told the Star-Tribune last week that he was confident in the bill’s success, saying it had a better chance passing than any similar bills in 10 years.

“The reason we like tobacco taxes so much is it’s one of two proven ways we can reduce tobacco usage,” he said Thursday. “Sticker shock at register or limit where folks can smoke via smoke-free laws.”

While the committee may have found the $1 increase too hefty, Mincer said the figure was intentional and pivotal.

“It is really important that the amount of the tax increase remains at a dollar,” he said last week. “We have lots of data showing that tax increases of less than a dollar, the tobacco industry will come in and offer coupons, lower wholesale prices. Consumers won’t see that sticker shock. In order for those health gains to be shown, you have to have that dollar increase.”

According to the fiscal note on the bill, the measure was projected to raise $31.8 million per year in the general fund — the state’s primary spending account — and another $4 million for local government funding annually.