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State’s cigarette tax may rise by 20 cents

To help cover her proposed budget of $25.8 billion dollars over the next two years, Gov. Christine Gregoire is planning to raise cigarette taxes by 20 cents.

The tax currently sits at $1.43 a pack. The increase would raise the tax to $1.63 compared to Oregon’s $1.18 and Idaho’s 57 cents. New Jersey has the highest cigarette tax at $2.40 per pack. According to Gregoire, the proposed tax would generate $79 million for the budget.

Lee Howell, who’s been an attendant at the 76 Station and convenience store near Bay Street for one year and two months, said he isn’t surprised by the ongoing rise of cigarettes; he said most smokers will buy them no matter what.

“I sold 85 packs maximum on an eight-hour shift,” Howell said. “The most popular brands are Marlboros and Camels.”

Today, Marlboros are “specially priced” at $4.39 a pack, or $36.99 a carton.

Cigarette costs for a pack-a-day smoker who buys individual packs at the proposed price of $4.59 add up to almost $150 a month.

A local veteran who lives at the Retsil Veteran’s Home said he has smoked for 50 years, ever since Marlboros came onto the market. He declined to give his name. Asked if he would continue to buy cigarettes if the tax as raised, he said he’d have to unless he went to the reservation.

“Nothing is fair anymore,” he said. “You can’t even smoke them anywhere anymore. You have to pay the tax and you can’t even smoke them.”

According to Melinda Harmon of the Kitsap County Health District, the proposed tax would make a difference in the lives of smokers.

“I certainly think it would make a difference,” Harmon said. “For some people, 20 cents per pack is a lot of money.”

Harmon said she expects the smoking tax to mostly affect the younger generation of smokers.

“It’s probably going to affect the younger folks, and they’re going to think twice about smoking,“ Harmon predicted.

She said older generations of smokers will be forced to ask “does this make sense to pay all this money when it’s going to affect my health.”

“Some people are going to smoke no matter what,“ Harmon said. “I think it’s a good thing.”

Howell said he doesn’t think the tax will deter smokers.

“They’ll gripe about it,” Howell said, “but they’ll still buy their smokes.”

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