LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Gov. Matt Bevin’s veto of tax and spending bills gave new hope to backers of higher cigarette taxes after lawmakers failed to enact their proposed increase of at least $1 per pack.

In a statement, the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow said the governor’s action “creates another opportunity for legislators to save money and save lives. Raising the cigarette tax by at least $1 would reduce public health care expenditures and help create a healthier, more competitive workforce.”

The coalition of more than 150 business, health care and other groups has pushed for the increase of $1 to $1.60 per pack, which they maintain would make it more expensive to buy cigarettes and result in about 55,000 fewer smokers and savings of more than $1.07 billion on treating smoking-related illnesses.

Both chambers of the Kentucky General Assembly approved a 50-cent, per-pack hike in a revenue bill that passed last week. The measure was “rushed through” and didn’t address comprehensive tax reform, Bevin told reporters ahead of signing his veto message Monday afternoon.

The tobacco tax proposal touched off heavy spending on lobbying.

Altria Client Services of Richmond, Va., the lobbying arm of tobacco giant Altria Group, was the top spender on lobbying during the first two months of the session. Altria, the parent company of cigarette maker Philip Morris, spent $156,651 through February, according to the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission.

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which manages the smoke-free group, spent the next-highest amount -- $107,336.

Retailers that are part of the Kentucky arm of the National Federation of Independent Business worry that a tax increase would result in smokers crossing state lines to buy cigarettes, state director Tom Underwood said.

“Any tax increase that impairs our ability to make sales we have concerns about,” he said.

Kentucky’s per-pack cigarette tax of 60 cents was last raised in 2009.

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