Hiking taxes on tobacco products — including e-cigarettes — would provide a fix not only for the health of New Mexicans but for the state’s revenues, a lawmaker and health organizations said Wednesday as they promoted a “buck-a-pack” tax increase ahead of the upcoming session.
They said a bill sponsored by Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, would bring in an estimated $33 million more a year even as it kept kids from buying tobacco products and prodded adult users to quit.
The tax “is going to save lives, it’s going to save health care costs, and it’s going to generate needed money for the state of New Mexico,” Morales said at a news conference.
He’s on the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee, which along with its House counterpart is grappling with an uncertain revenue picture for next year because of dropping oil prices.
Under Senate Bill 77 the tax on a pack of cigarettes would increase from $1.66 to $2.66, taking the cost of a pack to about $7 and yielding an additional $25 million a year, according to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
The tax on other tobacco products — little cigars, chewing tobacco and snuff, for example — would be hiked from 25 percent of their value to 66 percent, and electronic cigarettes and related devices, such as hookahs, would be included in that category for the first time. That would bring in another $8 million, according to proponents including the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association.
The additional revenue raised under the legislation would go to the state Children, Youth and Families Department for early childhood education programs, under the bill.
Opponents have long argued that higher taxes would simply drive buyers elsewhere — to Indian lands, for example. And Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who would have to sign a bill in order for it to become law, says she opposes tax increases.
“I know it’s a long shot, but it’s also the best shot … of making a difference in the state of New Mexico, with declining revenues,” Morales said.
The most poignant testimony for the legislation came from Albuquerque resident Kim Rutley , who wept as she recounted the death of her vibrant, 61-year-old sister, Jill Rutli — she had changed the spelling of her name — just 11 days ago from COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Rutli started smoking at 20 — with “no idea the impact this addiction would have on her life” — and was unable to quit when she wanted to, her sister said. She suffered for seven years with the disease.
“We need to do whatever we can to prevent this kind of addiction,” said Rutley, who works for the state Department of Health as a health educator in tobacco prevention programs.