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Survey: Majority in W.Va. support tobacco tax hike

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A survey shows that a majority of West Virginians would support increasing the state's cigarette tax.

Sixty percent of adults in the state support raising the tax in order to support public health programs, according to the 2012 West Virginia Adult Tobacco Survey from West Virginia University's School of Public Health.

The survey is funded by the state Bureau for Public Health's Division of Tobacco Prevention.

Sixty-one percent of residents said they'd support increasing the tax on smokeless tobacco.

Valerie Frey-McClung, investigator at the WVU Prevention Research Center, said tobacco is a "huge burden" on the state.

"The importance [of raising the tax] is because, when you increase the price, you reduce consumption and keep kids from picking up the habit in the first place," Frey-McClung said.

Researchers asked a similar question on the survey in 2008 and 72 percent of West Virginia adults -- including a majority of smokers -- favored raising the tobacco tax, Frey-McClung said.

Increasing the cost of tobacco is just one tool to reduce consumption, she said.

Smoking bans, a fully funded tobacco prevention program and a media campaign also are important, she said.

"[Marketing is important] to counter the tobacco industry," she said. "They spend enormous amounts of money. They're always trying to recruit new users."

The state's Division of Tobacco Prevention is funded with $5.8 million annually, which is far less than what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends, she said.

While the majority of West Virginians support raising the cigarette tax, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin does not.

The governor's Advisory Council on Substance Abuse recently recommended, among other things, raising the alcohol and tobacco tax rates and using the revenue to establish a funding stream to support prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery services for substance abuse.

Tomblin intends to ignore those two recommendations, his spokeswoman, Amy Shuler Goodwin, said.

"The governor believes we can continue to tighten our belts and find resources already in state government," Goodwin said Friday. "He doesn't think right now is a good time to be taxing families."

The survey was taken in the first four months of 2012. A total of 2,132 adults were surveyed via phone, including a sample of those who use only cellphones. The responses were weighted to represent the state's entire adult population.

Of those polled, 64 percent of women and 56 percent of men favored increasing the cigarette tax. Sixty-six percent of nonsmokers and 38 percent of smokers supported the increase.

Of those who supported raising the tax, 28 percent said they would support raising the tax by more than $2 per pack.

Full results of the survey can be found here.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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