LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Raising Kentucky’s cigarette tax by $1 a pack has strong support from voters across the state, according to a poll released Thursday and funded by anti-smoking interests.

In all, 69 percent of those surveyed in December said they favor higher per-pack taxes in an effort to reduce smoking and spend the extra revenue on state budget needs.

A majority of residents in all parts of Kentucky back a tax increase, which advocates estimate will generate more than $266 million per year. The support ranges from 61 percent of residents in western Kentucky to 77 percent in the Lexington area.

Released as the 2018 Kentucky General Assembly gets underway, the poll “shows that voters have a clear message for them: address the budget, raise tobacco taxes -- and raise them by a $1 a pack,” Ben Chandler, chair of the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, said in a press release.

The coalition was formed last fall to promote anti-smoking policies, including higher cigarette taxes and more local smoke-free ordinances in Kentucky. Among its partners are the American Heart Association and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which paid for the poll.

The survey of 625 registered Kentucky voters also found:

  • 79 percent of former smokers back a $1 per-pack increase meant to lower smoking rates and help the state budget, compared with 84 percent of people who have never smoked. Twenty-three percent of smokers opposed it.
  • 73 percent said they support the $1 tax hike if it will prevent 20,000 children from becoming smokers and save $1 billion in health-care costs.
  • Republicans were more likely than Democrats to back the tax increases on cigarettes, although support levels were at least 67 percent among both parties.
  • 80 percent said they supported increasing taxes on cigars, snuff and other tobacco products by the same amount as any cigarette tax increase.

Kentucky State Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, has filed a bill that would add $1 to the price of cigarettes and set aside 90 percent of the new revenue to the state’s Medicaid program in an effort to offset the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses.

Meredith refers to his legislation as a “health care reimbursement assessment,” not a tax.

Reach reporter Marcus Green at 502-585-0825, mgreen@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2018 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.