A proposal by the South Carolina Tobacco-Free Collaborative would raise the state cigarette tax by $1 a pack by 2018. “The biggest impact would be that it would prevent kids from starting smoking in the first place,” says executive director Megan Hicks. The proposal is part of the group’s new five-year plan.
South Carolina lawmakers raised the state cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack in 2010, bringing it to 57 cents. That’s still one of the lowest in the nation. The average nationwide is $1.60, so even adding the extra dollar would keep South Carolina’s tax below the national average.
According to the Youth Tobacco Survey, the high school smoking rate dropped 35 percent between 2011 and 2013.
Mary Mitchell, a USC student from Columbia, says, “I think it’s a great idea, honestly. I started smoking when I was 16 and that was a really terrible decision, so I think raising it by a dollar would probably be a good idea.”
The big question is whether state lawmakers are willing to consider raising the tax again. It took several years of debate for them to agree to the 50-cent increase. Hicks says, “I would like to think that since we’ve seen the benefits of a 50-cent increase that that would help motivate people to look at a dollar increase.”
The group has just announced its plan so doesn’t have any lawmakers lined up yet to introduce the tax increase. Hicks says they hope at least some of the money the higher tax would bring in would be used for youth smoking prevention and cessation programs.
She says even if you don’t smoke, you should be concerned about the state’s smoking rate. Smoking-related health care costs that are paid by state taxpayers cost every household $975 every year. About 7,200 people in South Carolina die each year from smoking.