House discusses tobacco tax hikes (Audio)

The South Carolina House passed over numerous cigarette tax increases Wednesday night.
Spartanburg Republican Joey Millwood pushed to strike the 30-cent per pack tax already in the budget, put there weeks ago by the Ways and Means Committee. The House killed Millwood’s attempt, 106-12.
Charleston Republican Leon Stavrinakis and Florence Republican Kris Crawford, a medical doctor, introduced a bi-partisan plan that appeared to have a lot going for it, but failed on a 68-42 vote. The $1-per pack increase that would have offered $200-$300 million for health care and income tax relief, and would have sent the remaining 10 percent to any education shortfall.
Dr. Crawford said that as a physician in emergency rooms he had cared for children and teens who smoked, children from other states who picked up the habbit because tobacco was more affordable in South Carolina.
Stavrinakis told lawmakers that if they were planing to raise the cigarette tax 30 cents, they might as well go to a dollar.
(Stavrinakis on tobacco tax MP3 1:53)
Stavrinakis on tobacco tax

The House also killed Democratic leader Harry Ott’s measure that would return the House’s emphasis to the 50-cent tax-per-pack that the House passed last year, which the Senate did not pass. Lawmakers from the areas along the North Carolina and Georgia lines have fought tobacco tax increases due to pressure from gas station owners who insist that they will lose business if motorists from the neighboring states don’t come to their businesses anymore to purchase cheap cigarettes. Ott says the state’s cheap gas is a greater draw.
One of the proposal’s defeated was by Orangeburg Democrat Gilda Cobb-Hunter, what she called a tobacco user tax, which would help to fund education.  Cobb-Hunter asserted that Georgia will soon pass a cigarette tax of approximately $1 per-pack tax. Lawmakers say a 30-cent-per-pack increase in South Carolina would still be lower than Georgia’s current 37-cent tax, meaning that some Georgia smokers might still cross the state line to purchase the product.