City mulls tobacco tax

by Mark Arehart on December 5, 2012

At its last regular meeting, the Bethel City Council discussed the possibility of putting additional taxes on tobacco products. The proposed ordinance would raise the price of cigarettes by $2.21 per pack and raise prices for other tobacco products by 45%.

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Community member Melinda Norwood sees the proposed tax as a step in the right direction.

“I work at the hospital. I’m an emergency room nurse and I have been for over 20 years. And in the 20 years I have treated a lot of patients with COPD, CHF and bronchitis, which are all caused by smoking. The amount of money that is spent and the amount of time that is spent on treating these is astronomical,” Norwood said.

Nine others spoke before council about the proposed tax’s benefits in detouring smoking among adults and teenagers. But not everyone was supportive of it.

Johnny Furlong was the lone dissenting voice in the people to be heard section of the meeting. He saidthis tax could be the beginning of a slippery slope.
“Are we going to tax or outlaw sugar, chocolate? You know the question really is “where is it the government’s role to take a certain segment of the population and we are going to punish you because we don’t like what you are doing?”” Furlong said.

As for the council… it seemed decisively split on the issue

Bethel Mayor Joe Klejka is supportive of the measure and Councilmember Eric Whitney, who introduced the ordinance, says the increased cost of tobacco products would help persuade people to quit but still allow them a choice.

“You still have the liberty to pursue your hobby, it’s just going to cost more,” Whitney said.

Councilmember Rick Robb doesn’t agree with him. Robb said the tax would unfairly target certain demographics.

“People with the lowest social economics, people who make the least amount of money, people who have the least education smoke the most. People that make the most money, people that have the highest education, the best jobs, smoke the least,” Robb said.

Councilmember Mark Springer also disagrees with the ordinance. Both he and Robb said the increased tax has the possibility of being passed on to all consumers—not just those buying tobacco.

“Because the way this ordinance is written, the tax is paid basically at the point of entry. When cigarettes and tobacco products land in Bethel and become the possession of the retailer, the tax is due immediately. And it is quite possible that some retailers might choose to spread that tax cost out,” Springer said.

The council will hold a public hearing on the matter at its next regular meeting. A point of contention could be on where the funds go if the tax is implemented. Some on council want to see the money pumped into city youth activities, while others would like to see the money go into the city’s general fund.

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