Meridian Forum on Cigarette Tax

By: Tametria Conner Email
By: Tametria Conner Email

Just how much higher will Mississippi's cigarette tax go is still on the agenda for the state's lawmakers. Several groups are pushing for it to be raised.

For some health advocates like Roy Mitchell, it's a no-brainer for state lawmakers to pass a significant cigarette tax increase.

"While we may just be talking about pennies, each penny represents $2.4 million dollars," said Mitchell, director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program and chairman of the Communities for a Clean Bill of Health.

Mitchell said the benefits are overwhelming and that's why he says the fight is starting in Meridian to rally support, urging residents to push lawmakers to pass the one dollar a pack cigarette tax increase.

"It's very important for people to contact your state legislators now and tell them we want a significant increase in the state cigarette tax," Mitchell said.

The issue is still on the table. These advocates want residents to weigh in on how much this cigarette tax should be.

Meridian is the first stop in a series of stops across the state. While the word didn't get out as coordinators hoped, they say they are still enthusiastic.

Mitchell said polls consistently show Mississippians want an increase. He says, with mounting budget deficits affecting everything from education to car tags, the state needs it.

Reece Jones is a former smoker and a local health professional. He says there are potential health and economic benefits as the increase will raise revenue, encourage people to stop smoking, and help some from starting.

"If you don't smoke, you live longer," said Jones of Meridian Oncology Associates. "You have a better quality of life. It saves us money and it saves lives."

Senate and House members will meet Tuesday afternoon to again work on negotiations for the increase.

Mississippi's cigarette tax is currently 18 cents a pack, the third lowest rate in the nation.

The House has approved raising the tax to one dollar a pack; the Senate agreed on 49 cents. The group hopes an agreement will be met that's as close to one dollar as possible, so Gov. Haley Barbour can seal the deal with his signature.

How high do you think Mississippi's cigarette tax should be?

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