Supporters believe the smoldering effort to raise the cigarette - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Supporters believe the smoldering effort to raise the cigarette tax is starting to catch fire

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Proponents of raising Kentucky’s cigarette tax believe momentum is building, but it will likely take comprehensive tax reform to get it done.

Kentucky has the one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the nation at 60 cents a pack. It also has the highest smoking rate and the highest rate of cancer.

Supporters say raising the tax by at least $1 would improve the state's health and its budget. The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow estimates the tax increase would raise more than $260 million in revenue and cause thousands to kick the habit.

“We're for it, because we know the health benefits that will occur for people of Kentucky," said Ben Chandler, Chair of The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow. "But the revenue is an important consideration, certainly for lawmakers here in Frankfort. I think it has a good a chance as it ever has had."

The coalition held a rally at the Capitol on Tuesday promoting the benefits of stopping smoking for pregnant women.

Misti Williams, who smoked cigarettes for years and only quit when she learned her fifth child was coming, decided to make a change.

“I had a lot of regrets and guilt from the way I parented my children in the past," she said Tuesday. "And one of those guilts was not being able to quit smoking."

Williams not only quit but is now part of the effort to raise the cigarette tax. She believes it will motivate others to quit.

“It's probably one of the hardest things I've ever done, but it was so worth it,” she said.

At one time, raising the cigarette tax would have been unthinkable in Kentucky, where tobacco was king. But the industry has declined in recent years.

“We just don't have the reliance on tobacco that we used to, but what we do know is that tobacco is damaging our health,” Chandler said.

Rep. Steven Rudy, the chair of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, said a stand-alone bill raising the cigarette tax is unlikely to gain traction, but that does not mean the issue is dead.

“I think that will be part of comprehensive tax reform and one area that we would look at,” Rudy said.

Rudy said he does not know whether tax reform will be tackled during the regular session or wait until a special session. Williams said she just hopes that whenever it happens, lawmakers experience the satisfaction she felt when she gave up smoking.

“Just being to look at a child in the eyes and say ‘I did it for you.’”

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