Proposed cigarette tax hits home

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 30, 2002

The thought of rising cigarette taxes in Ohio has smoke coming out of some ears.

Rhonda Ridney, co-owner of R & R Grocery in Scottown is one such person.

"I don’t think it’s fair," she said. "There’s a lot of people who make their living on tobacco. If people can’t sell their tobacco, it hurts them."

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On Wednesday, the Ohio House narrowly approved a bill designed to patch a $1.7 billion hole in the state budget. The bill includes raising the state tax on cigarettes from 24 cents a pack to 55 cents.

The measure needed 50 votes to pass

and was approved 51-43. It was scheduled to go to the Senate today for consideration of House changes.

State Sen. Michael D. Shoemaker (D-Bournville) of the 17th District, a non-smoker, said he will not support this legislation.

He said Kentucky’s cigarette tax is 3 cents, West Virginia’s is 17 cents, and Indiana’s is 15.5 cents. For now, the only products being taxed are cigarettes, not smokeless tobacco or any other tobacco products, he said.

"Ohio's legislative leaders have once again neglected their responsibilities with the passage of a patchwork budget fix that is simply a procrastinator's dream," Shoemaker said. "The proposal accepted by the House of Representatives (Wednesday) indicates an attitude of insensitivity, overshadowed only by political expediency on the part of those in charge."

Don Hipp is an employee at D.C. Carryout, a drive-thru located at 532 4th Ave. in Huntington, W.Va, near the Sixth Street Bridge. He said because of his store’s location, 20 to 25 people from Ohio stop at his workplace every day, and some are regular customers.

During the past few days, Hipp said, he’s heard quite a bit about the tax.

Bob Ackerman, owner of Leo’s Carryout in South Point, located near the Ashland, Ky. bridge, said "We’ll lose some (business to Kentucky). But, it’s the little guy that gets beat up here. That’s my problem."

South Point resident Tony Fetters has been smoking half a pack a day for the past six years. He said he drives to Kentucky and buys his cigarettes by the carton because the tax is not so much.

He only buys his cigarettes in Ohio when he runs out. He will buy one pack, and then buy the rest in Kentucky.

Fetters added, "They’re trying to force us to quit. I’ll have to quit. I won’t be able to afford this."

Shoemaker said, "They’re being selective in taxation which is unfair." He said the tax is being paid by the people least able to pay it because most smokers have a low income. The House plans to tax one product to build a budget, he said.

However, there are some who support this tax.

Bob Maher, CEO of Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital, said "Studies have proven that the higher the cost of the cigarettes, the more likely people are to quit. This is important for the community health and well being."

However, Shoemaker said if the state wants to raise money, it should have a tax on something more people buy.

Congressman Ted Strickland from Ohio’s Sixth District said smoking is a bad habit, but it is an individual’s choice whether or not he or she wants to smoke.

"I strongly object to the state of Ohio trying to meet obligations by placing a tax on only one segment of the population. We’re taking people who are addicted and penalizing them for it." Amelia A. Pridemore/The Ironton Tribune