State Reps Propose Lower Cigarette Tax

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


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Rhode Island has the second highest cigarette tax in the nation—but not for much longer if a group of GOP reps has their say.

As of 2010, the state cigarette tax was $3.46. Only New York had a higher rate at $4.35 per pack. (Click here to see a state by state comparison.)

Supporters of the higher tax have credited it with a decline in smoking rates, especially among youth. But state Rep Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield, said the high tax is hurting small businesses in his district. He said it’s all too easy for smokers to just go across the border to Massachusetts, where the tax is $2.51 per pack.

“We’re a very small state. We can’t afford to have people be non-competitive with neighboring states,” Newberry told GoLocalProv. “It’s bad economic policy for the state.”

Newberry is one of several co-sponsors of a new bill that would cut the state's cigarette tax by one dollar.

He told GoLocalProv that the justifications for the tax don’t make sense. Health advocates say it cuts down on smoking rates, while others see it as another revenue source, according to Newberry. “The two arguments are really incompatible,” he said. “Which is it?”

The other co-sponsors are: Jon Brien, D-Woonsocket; David Bennett, D-Warwick; and Dan Reilly, R-Portsmouth. The main sponsor is Robert Phillips, D-Woonsocket.

What are the chances it will pass? Not high, Newberry admits. "I support it out of principle," he said. "But I don't have any unrealistic expectations about what's going to happen."

Rep. Joseph M. McNamara, D-Warwick, a strong supporter of the tobacco tax and chairman of the House Committee on Health, Education, and Welfare, could not be reached for comment in time for publication.


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