New cigarette tax increase considered

? Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that she may push again for a state cigarette tax increase to expand health care to the uninsured.

“I still think it’s a strategy that we may put back on the table next year,” Sebelius said during a news conference at the conclusion of the 2007 legislative session.

She said approval this session of health policy reforms puts her and the Legislature on the path toward providing comprehensive coverage for all Kansans. About 290,000 Kansans don’t have health insurance.

The question will be how to pay for expanding coverage, she said.

She said the state must look at more efficient ways to draw down federal dollars, and possibly increase the cigarette tax because the costs of smoking directly affect health care costs. And an increase in the tax will prevent some from picking up the habit she said.

In 2004, Sebelius, a former state insurance commissioner, proposed increasing the state cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack to $1.29. But the proposal went nowhere in the Legislature.

The difference between then and now, Sebelius said, is lawmakers are more interested in health care reform, and Kansas’ rank among states on the cigarette tax has fallen since more than a dozen other states have recently increased their rates.

But Sen. Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, who was the lead sponsor of health care legislation in the Senate, said an increase in the cigarette tax wasn’t a good idea.

He said increases in cigarette taxes generally lead to reductions in revenue from the product because smokers seek other avenues of buying cigarettes.

“It isn’t a reliable source of income to pay for health care,” said Barnett, who is a physician.

He said policymakers will have to exercise fiscal discipline to free up dollars for health care.