While cigarette consumption was sinking to a 50-year national low, what was happening in Kentucky?
From 2002 to 2004, cigarette sales increased as smokers from other states those increasing cigarette taxes came here for cheap smokes.
While some might applaud this boon to Kentucky retailers, its hard to feel great about living in the merchandiser-of-death-state. (How would that look on a license plate?)
And Kentuckys cigarette excise tax was so minuscule that the 125-million-pack increase in sales amounted to not even a blip in state revenues for education and other good causes.
Kentucky finally caught up with the rest of the nation last year and raised its tobacco tax for the first time in three decades. At 30 cents a pack, Kentuckys cigarette tax is still far below the national average of 92 cents and the average of our border states.
But since the tax increase took effect, cigarette sales are declining.
Kentucky still is failing to do the things that other states have shown reduce smoking, however, even though the need is vast.
Despite the huge health care costs inflicted by tobacco, this state spends just $2.7 million a year on tobacco-use prevention.
The least the Senate can do is approve House Bill 566, allowing cigarette makers who are not part of the tobacco master settlement agreement to forfeit to the state the payments theyre now required to place in escrow against possible future claims.
This would allow them to take a tax write-off instead of having to wait 25 years to reclaim the payments.
The House put the first $2.2 million from this change into tobacco-use prevention. The Senate should do likewise, especially since changing the escrow rules wouldnt preclude later pursuing Gov. Ernie Fletchers proposal to try to reshuffle the tobacco settlement in Kentuckys favor.
The Senate also should support and budget some money for HB 62, making smoking cessation therapies part of Medicaid benefits.