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Islanders unhappy with cigarette tax increase

Debby Dahl, 55, says the new tax will give her incentive to quit. “It’s about time I quit anyway,” Dahl said. Dahl has been smoking since she was 20; her favorite brand is Marlborough 100s. She has lived on the island since 1993 and works at a restaurant in Clinton. She wonders what the state is going to do with the tax money. “The tax is going to hinder people like me who will continue to buy locally. Many people buy online and won’t be paying the tax. At 60 cents a pack it would pay to drive to the reservations, that is, if they are still tax-free.” - Stephen Mercer
Debby Dahl, 55, says the new tax will give her incentive to quit. “It’s about time I quit anyway,” Dahl said. Dahl has been smoking since she was 20; her favorite brand is Marlborough 100s. She has lived on the island since 1993 and works at a restaurant in Clinton. She wonders what the state is going to do with the tax money. “The tax is going to hinder people like me who will continue to buy locally. Many people buy online and won’t be paying the tax. At 60 cents a pack it would pay to drive to the reservations, that is, if they are still tax-free.”
— image credit: Stephen Mercer

Smokers must now reach deeper into their pockets to buy that pack of Camels or Kools.

The 60-cent cigarette tax increase passed by the state Legislature this year became effective Friday morning. The tax on a pack of cigarettes jumped from $1.42 to $2.02 per pack, pushing the cost between $5.50 and $7, depending on the brand.

The new tax, coupled with a portion of the state property tax levy, pays for the education legacy trust account. The account funds increase access to higher education, other educational programs and a student achievement fund.

South Whidbey smokers aren’t happy with the tax increase.

“I’m tired of the state raising sin taxes to pay for incompetent government and welfare,” said Mark LaValle, of Clinton.

Since the passage of Initiative 695 in 1999, which set a flat car tab fee of $35, taxes on sin tax items such as cigarettes and alcohol have gone up to cover the cost of the lost revenue, LaValle said.

Friday’s 60-cent hike marks the second such increase since I-695 was approved by voters. In 2001, taxes rose from 83 cents to $1.43.

Money from cigarette tax should pay for smoking-related medical costs, LaValle said.

Brad Bittner of Clinton, who sat by LaValle at Cozy’s Thursday, agreed that sin taxes should be devoted to covering medical costs.

Bittner, who suffers from cancer, added that state government needs more accountability to guarantee that the state spends the tax money where it’s supposed to be spent.

Prices are “out of hand,” added Neil Hornshaw of Clinton.

Hornshaw agreed that taxes should go to health services rather than education.

But he does not plan to end his eight-year smoking habit immediately

“It’s hard to quit,” Hornshaw said.

“(I’ll) have to take it as it comes along,” he said of the rising price of cigarettes.

At the Freeland Shell service station, manager Larry Hooker said many people say they will quit once the prices go up.

Even so, they continue to pay the higher prices.

With the higher prices less than a day away, Hooker said cigarette carton sales were higher than normal Thursday.

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