Smokers Angry Over Proposed Cigarette Tax

A proposed state tax on tobacco has many East Texas smokers angry over the possibility of paying yet higher prices on an already-taxed habit. The tax has its health advantages, but could spawn other problems.

"It's blackmail. It's really blackmail and what are they supposed to accomplish by doing this? Are you supposed to quit? OK, so if you do quit, the state doesn't get the tax," said smoker Dee Spell.

Smokers in Longview are angry. They don't believe the solution to the Texas education system's need for money should come out of their pockets.

The American Cancer Society says when the prices go up, there are no statistics showing health improvements among smokers or that a substantial amount even quit.  However, when a total smoking ban was enacted in Montana in 2003, a 60% reduction of heart attacks was recorded. But the so called "sin tax" is not gaining any support from those we talked to, even among non- smokers.

"I think it's wrong. I think they need to find somewhere else to tax people," said non-smoker Dora Hollon.

The proposed tax would drive the price of a pack of cigarettes up to $5 to $6 a pack depending what you buy. States like Oklahoma and Louisiana already sell for lower prices, and law enforcement is worried that's going to create another problem -- bootlegging.

"It's not a problem to go there and buy all the cigarettes you want and bring them back over here for personal use. But if you go over there and you buy them bring them back with the intention of selling them to family, friends or whoever, it's a violation of the law and it's a class A misdemeanor," said Longview Police Department Sergeant Shaun Pendleton.

Even in this time of higher gas prices, some in Longview say it'll be worth the trip to Louisiana to get cheaper cigarettes.

"Definitely, it's only an hour from here and it's definitely worth the trip," said Spell.

The tax will move to the full legislature for approval or dismissal. There are two weeks left in the legislature's 30-day special session. Governor Rick Perry put this plan into action, so when it reaches his desk, he is expected to sign it.

Bob Hallmark reporting,