Will new tax make people quit smoking?

Kitsap County resident Barbara Kanta breezed into a Cigarettes Cheaper branch on a recent December afternoon to buy two packs of smokes.

The 43-year-old, who picked up the habit when she was a teenager, is determined to quit once the New Year rolls around.

“I have got everything lined up,” she said. “I’ve got the patch and the gum all ready to go. I think the new taxes will help people quit.”

Washington will have the highest tobacco tax in the nation starting Jan. 1, when Initiative 773 goes into effect.

The measure tacked on an additional 60 cents of tax onto every standard pack of cigarettes, raising the total tax to $1.425. The measure also raised the surcharge on other tobacco products, including cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco.

Not all smokers and Kitsap residents agree with Kanta’s assessment of the effect the tobacco tax will have on smoking habits.

Sheri Perdue, a 33-year-old South Kitsap resident, said the increase in tobacco taxes won’t stop smokers from smoking.

“The taxes wouldn’t stop me from smoking,” said Perdue, who also picked up the habit at a young age. “My family wants me to quit, though.”

Violet Luce, an assistant store manager at a Kitsap Cigarettes Cheaper shop, said taxes, no matter how high, never will make smokers into nonsmokers.

“Ninety-nine percent of the customers who come in here want to quit, but they can’t,” said Luce, who is allergic to cigarette smoke. “They have to find a reason for themselves.”

As for the smoke shop business, Luce doesn’t anticipate any significant losses, because industry prices frequently fluctuate. She said the store already has a faithful customer base.

Supporters of the initiative, including the American Lung Association, said the tax measure was designed to not only increase revenues for subsidized health care, but to encourage kids to not pick up the habit and help smoking addicts quit.

“It’s a well-known fact that more kids are using tobacco and they are getting hooked,” said Robert Crittenden, president of the Washington Academy of Family Physicians, during the initiative campaign. “One of the most effective ways to deter that from happening is increase the tax on tobacco products.”

But Luce said kids who’ve picked up the habit aren’t going to be deterred and others will continue to start smoking.

She worried that young smokers will steal cigarettes or go underground.

“We expect there to be more enforcement work next year,” said Tricia Currier, a spokeswoman for the state Liquor Control Board. “We’ve checked with other states in the same situation, where they’ve raised their taxes and border states haven’t.”

Enforcement authorities worry about increased smuggling across state borders. Along Washington’s borders, Idaho imposes 28 cents and Oregon 68 cents in cigarette taxes.

The impact the tax hike will have on revenues is difficult to predict — state officials forecast a 21.8 percent drop in cigarette sales next year.

Department of Revenue spokesman Mike Gowrylow said the expected drop assumes two factors: more people are expected to quit, and illegal sales will increase because of the tax increase.

Despite the projected drop in cigarette sales, forecasters predict the tax will generate $131 million in fiscal year 2003.

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