State lawmakers are set to meet this week to review a proposal to raise tobacco taxes, including a $1-per-pack hike for cigarettes.
Tobacco use is widely viewed as the leading cause of preventable death in Wyoming, according to the American Cancer Society, and smoking causes nearly 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the state.
Jason Mincer, Wyoming government relations director for the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network, says sticker shock at the counter is a big motivation for people to quit smoking.
"That would prevent about 2,100 kids from starting to smoke in Wyoming," he states. "It's going to save us over the long run almost $100 million in health care costs. And it would save about 1,300 lives."
Mincer says each year, 800 Wyoming residents die from tobacco-related illness, and some 1,800 children try cigarettes for the first time.
Critics of the measure maintain it would hurt small businesses, including convenience store owners, and warn the move could push Wyoming dollars to neighboring states that have lower taxes.
House Bill 218, sponsored by Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne), is expected to get a hearing this week in the House Revenue Committee.
Mincer says the tobacco tax would have a net-positive impact on the state budget and notes Wyoming taxpayers are currently on the hook for $258 million annually for health care costs related to smoking.
"So, a $1 increase in tobacco taxes would certainly benefit the State of Wyoming, with $22 million going to the General Fund and about $4 million to cities, towns and counties, who are desperately seeking funding right now," he points out.
Mincer says states that have raised taxes by at least $1 per-pack have seen a sharp decrease in cigarettes sold, which translates into fewer children starting to smoke and lower rates of preventable disease.
He adds any tax less than $1 per-pack opens the door for tobacco companies to keep prices low through coupons and discounts.