Don't let Pa.'s tobacco revenues go up in smoke
As the Corbett administration and the Legislature have cut state funding by millions of dollars for an array of health services, including more than $30 million for mental health services alone and much more for the adultBasic insurance program, they also have declined to follow the lead of the 49 other states that impose taxes on cigars and spit tobacco.
When former Gov. Ed Rendell proposed joining the other states with such a tax back in 2010, he estimated that a tax rate on non-cigarette tobacco products akin to the rate on cigarettes would produce about $41 million a year. He proposed a 30 percent rate, calculated on wholesale prices, as in 33 other states that set rates anywhere from a low of 7 percent to a high of 90 percent.
Pennsylvania still produces about 1.5 percent of the nation's tobacco crop, but more than 90 percent of that production is used to make cigarettes, which already are taxed. And the five biggest tobacco-growing states -- North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and South Carolina -- all impose taxes on non-cigarette tobacco products.
Revenue from the tax could be dedicated to health services that have been diminished. And the tax would serve public health in another way, by reducing consumption of the cancer-causing products by an estimated 8 percent, thus contributing to reduced long-term health care costs.