"The science could not be more clear," Foster said. "Virtually every expert in this country and elsewhere has concluded that raising tobacco tax is one of the most effective measures we can take to reduce smoking."
At 55 cents per pack, West Virginia's cigarette tax is the 44th lowest in the nation. The national average for tobacco taxes is $1.48 per pack. Advocates say increasing the tobacco tax by $1 per pack would raise more than $140 million in new annual revenue for the state, even though raising the tax is likely to reduce tobacco usage.
Proponents say raising the tax would prevent 21,100 West Virginia children from smoking, save 11,800 state residents from premature smoking related deaths and save more than $760 million in long-term tobacco-related health care costs, according to a statement from the coalition.
Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, said he's waiting to see the legislation before he forms an opinion about it. Walters wants to know where the funding would go, he said. But the lawmaker said he's has gotten messages from constituents who would support the tax increase, he said.
Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said he is in favor of raising the tax but the odds are not in its favor. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has made clear that he doesn't support increasing taxes, Palumbo said.
Delegate Nancy Peoples Guthrie, D-Kanawha, said she has supported raising the tax in the past and would do so this year again. But the legislature is focused on other things this year, she said.
"I don't think it's on anyone's radar screen this year," Guthrie said. "It seems to me we have been focused on education and jobs and prison overcrowding but haven't focused attention on raising the tobacco tax. It's kind of an unknown. I don't know anyone who's really championing that issue."
House Health and Human Resources Committee Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, who has proposed legislation that would increase the tax on cigarette, called the survey remarkable. It shows that West Virginians are inclined to do what's right and what seems to be appropriate despite the national feeling of opposition to raising taxes, he said.
The question is whether lawmakers can overcome the fear of raising taxes to do the right thing, Perdue said.
Reach Lori Kersey at lori.ker...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.