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Coalition pushes tobacco tax measure
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Coalition pushes tobacco tax measure

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Members of a coalition seeking an increase in the state’s tobacco tax say their proposed increase would reduce smoking rates as well as state health care costs among other benefits.

“That’s the missing leg of the three-legged stool,” Eric Johnson, a Grand Forks physician and head of the measure’s sponsoring committee, Raise It for Health North Dakota.

Two-thirds of North Dakota voters in 2012 approved a ballot measure making public places smoke-free. In 2008, nearly 54 percent of voters approved the creation of a state tobacco prevention and control program.

Other states that have raised the tax have seen decreases in smoking, according to Johnson, adding that the measure will help beef up the state’s tobacco prevention efforts.

“This is a tax nobody has to pay. It’s a product that creates death,” Johnson said.

Kristie Wolff, with the American Lung Association in North Dakota, said the measure would increase the tobacco tax for cigarettes in North Dakota from 44 cents per pack to $2.20. Taxes on liquid nicotine products would be increased from 28 percent of the wholesale purchase price to 56 percent.

The national average tax on a pack of cigarettes is $1.61.

New tax revenues created through the measure, estimated at about $100 million per biennium, would be split between health-related programs in the state’s Community Health Trust Fund as well as a newly created Veterans Tobacco Tax Trust Fund.

“We’re confident that North Dakota voters will respond positively yet again,” Wolff said.

Only Georgia, Missouri and Virginia have lower tobacco taxes than North Dakota. The tobacco tax in North Dakota hasn’t been raised since 1993.

Being a statutory initiative, 13,452 legitimate signatures will be required at least 120 days before the election. The deadline for turning in signatures for the Nov. 8 election is July 11.

Several unsuccessful attempts have been legislatively in the year since the last tax increase.

Wolff said the increase would bring North Dakota in line with the surrounding states in the tax per pack of cigarettes. The tax in Minnesota is $3 per pack, in Montana it’s $1.70 and in South Dakota it’s $1.53.

“We based it on polling we’ve done,” Wolff told reporters when asked how the group came to the $1.76 per pack increase being proposed.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the tax increase could result in a 20 percent drop in youth smoking, preventing about 5,800 youths from becoming adult smokers, Johnson said.

North Dakota Retail Association president Mike Rud said the group he leads will need to review the measure language and watch to see if it gets the necessary signatures for a vote. The group opposed both 2015 bills.

Rud said on first glance the proposed increase is substantial, adding that taxing cigarettes would negatively impact lower-income smokers.

“Taxing a group that can least afford it? It’s a bit troublesome to us,” said Rud, clarifying that tobacco products aren’t illegal and retailers sell them to meet demand among legal buyers.

“There’s got to be a limit to how involved we get with these things,” Rud said.

For more information on ballot petitions being circulated, visit sos.nd.gov.

Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at

nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.

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