LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A group pushing for higher tobacco taxes in Kentucky spent the most money lobbying lawmakers during the first month of the state legislative session, according to data released Monday.

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky spent $100,240 in January, including more than $98,500 for an advertising campaign set to begin next week. The foundation’s Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow is seeking an increase of at least $1 on every pack of cigarettes sold in the state.

“It will be a multimedia campaign,” coalition spokeswoman Bonnie Hackbarth said. “We will be using billboards, cable TV, digital, and we will be focusing on the health benefits that can be achieved through a $1 or more increase on the tax on cigarettes.”

She said the blitz, which is expected to start Feb. 26, will focus on the health benefits of quitting smoking. Kentucky The state's adult smoking rate -- 25 percent -- trails only neighboring West Virginia.

Hackbarth said the coalition, whose members include health, business and other groups, does not expect that a standalone bill raising the cigarette tax will pass during the current session. The 60-day General Assembly is more than halfway over, with lawmakers yet to tackle pension reform and the state’s two-year budget.

But she it’s “possible” the measure could be added during budget negotiations or approved in a special session on tax reform. Advocates estimate a $1-per-pack cigarette tax could generate more than $266 million for the state each year while also reducing smoking-related illnesses.

“This is the first wave and we will continue until we will be able to win,” she said.

One of the coalition’s supporters, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, was the No. 2 spender during January ($55,387), followed by Altria Client Services ($44,643); Baxter Healthcare Corp. ($35,000); and the Kentucky Hospital Association ($32,559), according to reports posted online by the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission.

In all, lobbying interests spent at least $2.48 million during the first 30 days of the legislative session. That amount could increase slightly as a small number of historically low-spending groups file their reports.

Altria of Richmond, Va., is the lobbying arm of tobacco giant Altria Group, the parent company of cigarette maker Philip Morris. In all, it and other tobacco companies and affiliated groups spent $95,218 in January.

Businesses, trade associations and other organizations spent a record amount on lobbying in Kentucky last year -- $20.8 million – despite a short 30-day legislative session. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which supported several bills passed by the Republican-led legislature, spent a high of $338,783 in 2017, compared with $281,378 in 2016. 

Altria, which also represents U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., was next, spending $312,196, up from $274,358 the year before.

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