Cigarette tax increase gaining Senate support

A 50-cent state cigarette tax is a little closer to reality.
Next week, the full state Senate will take up a plan to create more than $145 million in new revenues.
Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman says the new bill is a compromise over how the money should be spent.
“Basically what it does is put the additional fifty cents into a “healthcare trust fund” to be used for future health needs. Obviously the General Assembly would need to appropriate those monies at the time that the need arose,” he says.
Leatherman says that means, “anything dealing with health care the General Assembly chooses to use it for. ”
The bill sent from the House would use the money for tax credits to people to buy their own health insurance.
The question of how the money should be spent is the sticking point that kept the bill from being passed last year. The Darlington Senator says the most important thing they can do is curtail the use of tobacco.
“To me the big thing is, is to increase that tax and hopefully stop people from smoking, any at all or as much, and particularly the young people who may be inclined to start smoking.”
In the Senate revision, five million in cigarette tax money would go to the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center for lung cancer research. Leatherman says he insisted on that being in the bill:
“First of all, the Hollings Cancer Center has been designated by the National Institutes of Health as a cancer center, but secondly I can think of no more direct tie to the use of tobacco tax money than doing lung cancer research.”
Leatherman says the 16 to 5 vote in Finance Committee tells him that lots of people are supporting this. South Carolina has not increased cigarette taxes since 1977.