State lawmakers are pressing forward with their efforts to raise the state’s lowest in the nation cigarette tax. The South Carolina House voted 97-22 Thursday to give second reading to a bill that would raise the tax from 7 cents to 57 cents. It is estimated that the revenue raised from the increase would by $147 million of which $139 million would be used to finance health care coverage for uninsured South Carolinians. Thursday’s proceedings featured house members voting down several proposed amendments to the measure, including those which would have lowered the proposed increase by 20 cents.
One dissenting voice to the bill belongs to York County Representative Gary Simrill who says merchants in the 22 border counties would be hurt by the 50 cents increase with neighboring North Carolina with a 38 cents cigarette tax and Georgia at 37 cents.
“Interestingly enough, we don’t know how much money is going to be raised. They can only estimated it. But i’m telling you, if we start losing people across the borders into neighboring states either Georgia or North Carolina to buy cigarettes and while they’re there they start buying other goods and services, we are biting the hands that feed us.”
Simrill says shoppers migrating into neighboring states would mean lost revenue for the South Carolina and that ultimately would result in lost jobs.
Simrill says it is interesting to note that many persons support the bill for one reason or another but it is unclear whether the measure in the long run will achieve the desired results. “I hear one thing, raise the cigarette tax because it in itself becomes a deterrent and it will keep people from smoking. I hear the other is we need THE money that is generated from the cigarette tax. Well, you’re not going to have it both ways. With the federal government doing what they’re doing and that of course is in all 50 states, and with what South Carolina is doing in raising this cigarette tax, it puts South Carolina in an economic disadvantage to our neighboring states.”
Wednesday the federal tobacco tax increased from 39 cents to $1.01, pushing the price of most cigarettes over $4.00 a pack.