By HDN Editorial Board
Where Montana ranks among the 50 states is often the subject of news stories. One should be careful when comparing our state with others. However, some rankings can't be and shouldn't be ignored, and should serve as a blueprint for action for our state.
One glaring example is Montana's tobacco tax, which ranks 48th among states in lowest tobacco taxes paid by tobacco users. Montana's state cigarette excise tax is just 18 cents per pack. This is the 12th lowest tax rate, and the third lowest effective tax rate in the nation. (The effective tax is the sum of state excise taxes plus state sales taxes.)
The only states with a lower effective tax rate on cigarettes are Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia, all major tobacco-producing states.
Montana's last cigarette tax increase was in 1993. The 18 cents Montana smokers pay comes nowhere near paying the costs the state incurs to aid ailing smokers.
Montana should raise the tobacco tax $1 a pack. This would at least help pay for the health costs the state pays for those who smoke. About 80 percent of Montana adults do not smoke, according to the American Cancer Society, and will not be financially impacted by a cigarette tax increase. Those who do will have one more reason to quit. Increased cigarette taxes will produce more state revenue even as cigarette consumption declines.
This isn't about regulating morality. It's about smokers paying for the privilege of slowly killing themselves.
Logic and prior history tell us that higher cigarette prices would prevent kids from starting tobacco use. It has been well established that for every 10 percent increase in cigarette prices, youth smoking rates decline by 6.5 percent, adult rates by 2 percent, and total consumption by 4 percent.
What are we waiting for? A tax increase could help save lives by stopping some kids from developing the deadly habit and helping some smokers to quit.
In a perfect world, we should be able to tax this industry out of existence.