First, I want to say that I have never smoked a cigarette, and I am in favor of everyone quitting. However, as a Kansas resident, I was shocked by Governor Brownback’s attempt to get rid of budget shortfalls by asking the legislature to almost triple the cigarette tax from 79 cents to $2.29 for a pack. It seems unfair that cigarette smokers have to make up for the budget hole the governor and legislature have dug for Kansas. The rationale for raising a tax on cigarettes is that people who don’t want to pay the tax can stop smoking.
People can just stop smoking? Does the governor really think that will happen in large numbers? Absolutely not, or he wouldn’t be banking on a cigarette tax as the way to decrease the state’s deficit. But people do have other options that do not involve quitting. Some of those options may not be a boon for Kansas businesses.
A run for the border
Those who live near a Kansas state line may cross over for lower prices. As of January 1, 2014, all four states bordering Kansas had a lower cigarette tax. Missouri’s tax on cigarettes, 17 cents per pack, is the lowest in the nation. Nebraska (64 cents), Colorado (84 cents), and even Oklahoma ($1.04) are all significantly lower than the $2.29 proposed by Brownback.
Other spending choices
In the news article I read, one person worried that people might choose purchasing cigarettes over filling prescriptions for needed medication. Not all smokers are taking medicine, but they all have spending choices. Some may choose to smoke instead of taking their families out to eat, attending a local sporting event or concert, visiting a museum, purchasing a new wardrobe, or even buying a new car. The unintended consequences of this tax could, in the long run, hurt the businesses Brownback is always saying he wants to help.
So what do you think? Is a higher cigarette tax the way to solve the Kansas budget crisis?