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Politics & Government

Senate kills tobacco tax bill

The two bills that would have raised tobacco taxes have been rejected by the Legislature.

The latest one to be defeated was in the Senate. It would have raised the tax on a pack of cigarettes from 44 cents to $2. Supporters say raising the tax would discourage people from starting to smoke – and encourage people to quit.

"Whether you like tax or don't like tax, taxes do affect purchases, which do affect starting smoking or continuing the habit through your lifetime," said Sen. Brad Bekkedahl (R-Williston). "From a public health perspective, and as a health professional, I'm in support of this bill."

Bekkedahl is a dentist.

Sen. Dave Oehlke (R-Devils Lake) says the bill is a way to slow “big tobacco” down.

"We can't slow them down any other way," said Oehlke. "They just keep pumping up the nicotine in the cigarettes. And now, 'e-cigarettes.' Are you kidding me? It's got to the point of being ridiculous."

But Sen. Kelly Armstrong (R-Dickinson) says raising the tax is only going to harm low income smokers.

"Prohibition by price isn't the best way to accomplish this," said Armstrong. "It forces people to spend more of their limited income on an addiction."

Armstrong said smoking rates are already going down.

Sen. Lonnie Laffen (R-GRand Forks) argued raising taxes is not the right way to regulate what is a legal product.

"This is a free country," said Laffen. "As long as products are legal, and we have effectively pushed them out of harm to all other people, we shouldn't be using tax policy to try and influence those decisions."

That bill was defeated 30 to 17. The House earlier rejected a measure that would have raised the cigarette tax to $1.54 per pack.

Those advocating for higher tobacco taxes say they're disappointed.

"Our legislators spoke clearly that they would rather save sales than save lives," said TJ Jerke of Tobaaco Free North Dakota. "These are the lives of friends and family who need to be protected from cheap tobacco."

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