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Tobacco users face possible tax increase

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Tobacco users may have to fork over more money next year if Gov. John Kasich’s 2016-2017 budget proposal — including a tax increase on cigarettes and related products — is accepted.

The proposal, which was released in January, suggests a $1 increase for the cigarette tax, bringing the total tax for a 20 pack to $2.25. Other tobacco products, such as snuff, cigars, hookah and e-cigarettes, would see the tax go from 17 to 60 percent.

Increasing cigarette and other tobacco product taxes would probably decrease the use of addictive and harmful products, but some locals, such as Pyramids Hookah Bar Manager Lucas Eardley, believe the tax increase might also hurt business.

“We would probably get less customers,” Eardley said. “Our regulars might try, but they’d probably come less.”

According to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), this tax increase could cause more than 73,000 Ohioans to quit smoking, and 65,000 children would never become adult smokers.

The tax hike is part of a three-legged stool for smoking prevention and cessation, said Jeff Stephens, director of Ohio Government Relations for ACS CAN. Prevention and cessation program funding and comprehensive smoke-free laws compose the remaining parts of the initiative.

“Those three things together, when they work together, have a phenomenal impact on reducing tobacco use,” Stephens said.

Kasich addressed all three in his proposal, dedicating $4.1 million to smoking cessation and prevention programs over the next two years and advocating for smoke-free public campuses, including K-12 schools and state universities.

“This is important because the tobacco industry really targets young people for smoking,” said Shelly Kiser, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Ohio. “[College] is the first time that, legally, they can get you hooked. If they can get you then, they have a customer for a long time — usually a lifetime.”

But not every college student takes up smoking freshman year. Alternative forms of tobacco use are popular among young adults, including e-cigarettes and hookah.

“Some of these other things are really gaining popularity among kids because they’re cheap, because their tax is so low,” Kiser said. “Bringing that up to par with the cigarette tax will keep people from switching.”

That isn’t the case for Hocking College graduate Stephanie Hoalcraft and Athens resident Lauren Nichols, regulars at Athens’ own hookah bar, Pyramids. The two frequent Pyramids most weeknights and every weekend. They said they won’t stop coming just because they have to kick in a few extra bucks.

“I think we just enjoy being here,” Hoalcraft said. “Sometimes we’ll smoke for a while. We usually pass it around, get up, dance, whatever.”

Eardley, who manages the bar almost every night, said people typically spend $30 to $40 a night on the hookah experience. Some are there from open until close, but it’s a social event, so people typically split the cost. He said a tax increase on such a thing is a waste.

“It’s a useless tax,” he said. “It’s trying to force people to stop something that is completely legal.”

Most of the revenue from the tax increase will go toward smoking-related medical costs, Stephens said.

“[Now there’s] $5.4 billion in health care costs attributable to tobacco use,” he said. “Even the money that the state pays to cover the tobacco problem just within the Medicaid population is $1.4 to $1.5 billion.”

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and ACS CAN, $2.67 billion would be saved in long-term health care costs.

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