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The cost of cigarettes will rise like smoke if federal and state officials have their way.
Kansas Health Policy Authority board on Tuesday approved its recommendations for the upcoming legislative session, and increasing the tobacco tax was on the list. The move comes as federal lawmakers wrestle over a plan to raise the federal tax on cigarettes by 61 cents a pack.
The local response Tuesday was predictable, with many smokers voicing their disapproval and some nonsmokers standing in support of the measures.
"I think the whole sin tax thing is completely ridiculous," said Jim Pickard, a Lawrence resident and smoker. "They're not charging sin taxes if somebody prefers to have tea or other things. They're strictly applying it to smokers, drinkers."
The authority proposes raising $52 million annually by increasing the state cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack, to $1.29. The revenue would support health care initiatives and, it is hoped, discourage smoking.
The federal tax is part of a plan for a five-year, $35 billion increase for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides low-cost health coverage to qualifying children. But President Bush has vetoed the bill and attempts to override the veto are expected to fail. Votes are scheduled for Thursday.
Hiking the price of cigarettes won't discourage Pickard, who said he has watched the price steadily grow from about $1 when he first started smoking to more than $4 today.
"I have no interest in quitting," he said.
But to some nonsmokers, the rising costs are a welcome way to curb others' bad habits.
"The more money they have to spend, the more they're going to quit because they can't afford it," said Juliana Norris, a Kansas University student and nonsmoker.
While some smokers say they'll keep puffing regardless of cost, some say it's getting to the point where it might be time to change.
"If they get up to five bucks a pack, I'm going to have to quit," Lawrence resident Brad Harrell said. "It's already a ridiculous amount of money to hand out every day for a pack. If it keeps going up, that's way too much, really."
Tax increase or not, business won't change at the BP convenience store at Haskell Avenue and 19th Street, where cigarettes move like hotcakes.
Faisal Absar, the store's manager, predicted raising the tax won't dampen sales.
"People will still smoke," he said.