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Higher W.Va. cigarette tax in effect

Starting today, smokers will pay an additional 38 cents a pack

Starting today, smokers will pay an additional 38 cents a pack

May 01, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Sitting on the sidewalk outside the International Beauty School in Martinsburg Wednesday afternoon, Angela Cole had a pack of Marlboro Lights next to her.

Starting today, those cigarettes will cost Cole and other West Virginia smokers an additional 38 cents a pack.

The tax had been 17 cents a pack, but state lawmakers agreed to increase the per-pack tax to 55 cents, with the additional money to go toward Medicaid, the state's program that provides health care to low-income and disabled residents.

"I'm still going to smoke," said Cole, who said she was not aware of the impending increase. "It makes you wish you hadn't started."

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Even though Cole, 22, said smoking is claiming her mother's life and killed her grandfather, she continues to dole out $2.92 for each pack of Marlboros. She will now pay around $3.30, but could head south of the state border, where the per-pack tax on cigarettes is 2 cents.

"I'll probably go to Virginia and buy them," Cole said.

Donnie Brown, who owns Lynn's Convenience Store in Falling Waters, W.Va., estimated that one-fourth of his business consists of selling cigarettes.

"I don't know how bad I'll be hit," Brown said.

Smokers tend to be more receptive to a manufacture's increase than to a tax increase, said Brown, a smoker who said he averages three to four cigarettes a day.

When increases take effect, Brown said, at first people will go elsewhere, but slowly start to trickle back in, because stopping at his store is a convenience.

When Lynn's opened 10 years ago, a pack of cigarettes cost $1.90, including tax.

Now, some cigarettes will cost around $4 a pack, Brown said.

Although the higher price could be an incentive for smokers to quit, Brown said he is doubtful.

"I'd like to see it. But if you're a smoker, you're a smoker," he said.

The tax increase initially was to take effect July 1, but legislators moved the date to today. The tax hike is expected to bring in an estimated $12.5 million between now and the end of the budget year on June 30.

If lawmakers had not approved the tax, Gov. Bob Wise has said next year's Medicaid budget would have faced a $225 million loss and 4,906 health care workers would have been without jobs.

Of the states that surround West Virginia, some have higher and some have lower cigarette taxes.

In Maryland and Pennsylvania, the per-pack tax in each state is $1. In Ohio, it is 55 cents, while in Kentucky the tax is 3 cents.

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