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Cig tax burns smokers

Looking for a new reason to quit smoking?

Would increasing the federal tax on cigarettes by 62 cents a pack make that decision a little easier?

Starting today, federal taxes on cigarettes jumped to $1.01 a pack with taxes also increasing on other tobacco products, including cigars and loose tobacco. The money is going to expand a federal health insurance program for low-income children.

Depending on where you buy them, a pack of cigarettes in Lawrence County will now cost about $5.60 or 28 cents per cigarette.

“Wow, that just might be the increase that breaks the bank,” said Lynette Williams, 34, who has smoked since she was 15. “I guess the bias against smokers continues.”

Kentucky is now $4.20 a pack on average and that price comes on the heels of a recent doubling of the state excise tax to 60 cents a pack. Ohio state tax is $1.25 per pack while it’s 55 cents in West Virginia.

Despite today’s increase, smokers have already been paying higher prices in recent weeks. Earlier this month, cigarette companies on their own increased prices – some by as much as 81 cents a pack.

Buyers of loose tobacco are taking the biggest hit. The tax, was at $1.10 a pound, is now up to $24.78 a pound. Little cigars will see an increase from 4 cents a pack to $1.01 cents a pack.

“It’s utterly insane,” said Jeff Martin, 59, who rolls his own cigarettes. “Despite the government’s attempts to make it expensive to get people to quit, they will probably hurt themselves even more by destroying an industry.”

Some who light up think the massive increase might not be the worst thing for them.

Smoker Amy Holler said the hike might be the final push she needs to kick her nicotine habit.

“I’m hoping the increase helps me quit,” said Holler, 28. “I really have been trying for some time. Because of the prices I think there will be fewer people smoking and hopefully I will be one of them.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approximately 23 percent of Ohioans smoke. The national average is 20 percent.

The CDC estimates that smoking-caused health costs total $7.18 per packed sold and consumed in the United States and that smoking is responsible for $193 billion in annual health-related economic losses in the United States ($96 billion in direct cost and $97 billion in lost productivity).

The tobacco tax increase, signed into law by President Obama in February, will allow millions of children to take advantage of the federal $32.8 billion, 4 1/2-year expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The program was established to get children, whose families made too much to qualify for Medicaid, health insurance.

Lawrence County residents who want to stop smoking can receive help by contacting the Ohio Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669). Callers can receive free advice and counseling on how to stop and also have the opportunity to get on a free, two-week nicotine patch program.