Health

On the same day an anti-smoking advocacy group released a poll showing more than half of Kentuckians support an increase in the cigarette tax, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer also voiced support for the measure.

Fischer made the remark Thursday during his 2018 State of the City address.

“Let your legislators know, we need a fair and workable long term solution that includes…[getting] going on the win-win of raising the cigarette tax, at least a dollar a pack,” Fisher said.

The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow wants to see the tobacco tax raised from the current 60 cents to $1.60 a pack.

The effort has failed in the state legislature in previous years but the coalition is using the results of a poll released Thursday to put pressure on legislators to vote for the bill.

The Poll

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc. conducted the poll during a week in December of 625 Kentucky registered voters.

Those surveyed were asked about several methods of reforming taxes in Kentucky: increasing overall sales tax from six to seven percent; increasing the cigarette tax by $1 per pack; applying sales tax to things like medical bills and dry cleaning; applying sales tax to grocery store purchases.

Fifty-two percent of people polled said of those four options, they would most support increasing the cigarette tax, while 19 percent said they would favor increasing the sales tax overall.

When asked directly about raising the state’s cigarette tax by a dollar, 69 percent of people surveyed said they would be in favor of it. And once participants heard additional information on the amount of revenue the tax would generate and the number of children who would likely not become smokers,  almost three-quarters of people polled said they would support an increase.

Among those polled, people who had never smoked or were former smokers overwhelmingly were in favor of raising the cigarette tax, with only 14 percent of current smokers responding that they would want the tax raised.

The Coalition for a Smoke-free Tomorrow estimates the tax increase would raise $266 million in new state revenue each year. Kentucky’s current cigarette tax is the 43rd lowest in the nation, and raising it would still put the state below the national average of $1.71 a pack.

A 2018 version of the tax increase bill was pre-filed by Sen. Stephen Meredith of Grayson County. In addition to the tax, it sets aside 90 percent of the tax revenue toward the Medicaid program’s coverage of tobacco-related health issues.

The Kentucky Farm Bureau is a main opponent of increasing the state cigarette tax. KFB argues that increasing the tax would mean less revenues for Kentucky because smokers might go to neighboring states to buy cheaper cigarettes.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.