- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The Juneau Assembly has tripled a tax on cigarettes, with the intent that people will think twice before shelling out more than $10 for 20 smokes.

The Assembly on Monday night approved increasing the local tax to $3 a pack, up from the current $1. With an existing 5 percent sales tax and a $2 state tax, an average pack will now exceed $10, the Juneau Empire reported (http://is.gd/3Wmbbr).

The Assembly approved the hike as an excise tax instead of a sales tax that would have had to go to voters for approval.

As an excise tax, its stated purpose must be for something other than raising revenue. The ordinance says the purpose is to reduce the use of tobacco products, especially among young people.

An opponent of the tax, Joe Lassiter, cited statistics from an Alaska risk behavior study that show 42 percent of smokers live in households below the poverty level and about 45 percent do not have high school diplomas.

“You are taxing mainly the poor and the uneducated here,” he said.

The Assembly also voted to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

Hilary Zander, with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, told Assembly members e-cigarettes use by young people increased threefold last year, making young people twice as likely to start using regular tobacco products.

“We are particularly concerned with skyrocketing use of e-cigarettes among kids,” said Emily Nenon, Alaska director of the American Cancer Society.

The tax hike was approved on a 6-3 vote.

Assembly member Jerry Nankervis said parents, not a tax, should be the ones encouraging their children to quit smoking.

“I get weary of the vilification of people engaging in an activity that is legal,” Nankervis said. “A 200 percent increase on a pack of smokes is ridiculous.”

The tax is expected to bring in $1.7 million. A draft of the tax suggested the money could replace general funding to community service organizations, including those targeting teen health. Other funding could to go substance abuse centers and efforts to get housing for homeless people.

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Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com

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