- Associated Press - Thursday, July 7, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Supporters of a ballot initiative campaign that would increase North Dakota’s tobacco tax for the first time in decades turned in more than 22,000 petition signatures Thursday, saying they were confident their efforts would put the issue to a statewide vote.

The Raise It For Health North Dakota coalition wants to raise the state’s 44-cent cigarette tax another $1.76 per pack, to $2.20. The measure’s backers must have 13,500 qualified signatures to put it to a statewide vote in the Nov. 8 general election. Secretary of State Al Jaeger has about one month to decide whether the petitions are sufficient.

North Dakota ranks 47th among states in the amount of tax paid by smokers. Retailers have successfully fought off several attempts to raise the state’s tobacco tax in the past two decades. The last increase was imposed in 1993.

Tax on other tobacco products, including liquid nicotine for electronic cigarettes, would increase 28 percent to 56 percent of the wholesale purchase price under the ballot measure, the group said.

Supporters said the additional tax could swell North Dakota’s treasury by more than $200 million during the next two-year budget cycle; the money would pay for health-related programs and establish a trust fund to support health care services and programs for military veterans.

Opponents, including the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, argue the tax punishes retailers and unfairly targets low-income residents.

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