- The Washington Times - Monday, January 1, 2007

DALLAS Texas smokers will pay considerably more for cigarettes beginning today as a new excise tax takes effect.

The state Legislature approved the measure in May in an effort to pressure smokers to quit and to allow a break on property taxes.

The tax will increase $1 from a moderate 41 cents to $1.41 a pack, placing Texas among the 15 states with the highest cigarette levies. New Jersey has the highest tax, at $2.58 a pack. The increase will push the price of a single pack of cigarettes in Texas to about $4.50.

The state comptroller’s office has estimated the tax increase will generate $700 million a year, enabling a reduction in property taxes.

“That doesn’t mean it will actually go toward tax cuts,” Weldon Humphries said as he filled his rig at a truck stop in southeast Dallas. Politicians “usually find a way to spend money in ways to help themselves get re-elected.”

The trucker from Mesquite said he has smoked for more than 40 years and makes regular delivery runs to Texarkana on the Arkansas border and to Shreveport, La.

Arkansas’ cigarette tax is 59 cents a pack, and Louisiana’s is 36 cents.

“I can find a way to beat this,” Mr. Humphries said of the tax increase.

Gilda Wheaton, who was shopping at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Garland, loaded up with 12 cartons of Salems. When those are gone, she said, she will head for Oklahoma, where the cigarette tax is $1.03 a pack.

“No way I’m going to pay an additional nickel for each smoke,” Miss Wheaton said.

While some smokers pledge to cross into Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico or even Mexico to save a few dollars, federal agencies are gearing up to enforce the law against cigarette smuggling.

New York reported a noticeable jump in convenience store break-ins when it enacted a $3-per-pack increase in cigarette taxes. The emergence of a burgeoning black market in the state resulted in the formation of a special task force of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Convenience store operators have complained that the higher cigarette tax will lower sales across the board because customers will have less money to spend.

Chris Newton, president of the Texas Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said customers who pass up convenience stores for cigarettes “also will not be making purchases they traditionally make when purchasing cigarettes, like soft drinks or food purchases.”

Texans Investing in Healthy Families, a coalition of health and education organizations, predicted the tax increase would persuade 143,000 smokers to quit, decrease smoking in Texas by 18.8 percent and save 128,000 Texans from smoking-related deaths. The group said smoking costs Texans an estimated $11.5 billion a year in health care and lost productivity in the workplace.

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