SALEM, Ore. -- Squeezed by the recession, nearly half of the states are looking at raising cigarette taxes to generate revenue and discourage people from smoking, too.
"We've never seen as many states looking at increasing cigarette taxes as a way to make up for fiscal deficits as we're seeing right now," said Janis Borton of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twenty-two states are considering proposals by governors or legislators to boost cigarette taxes, according to the group.
In Oregon, for example, Gov. John Kitzhaber is advocating a 50-cent-a-pack increase, despite protests from the tobacco industry that it would balance the state budget on the backs of smokers.
Kitzhaber spokesman Jon Coney said the governor -- a former emergency room physician -- views the tax increase as a "two-fer" for Oregon.
"It's a good way to bring in more money in the face of the recession," he said. "There is also a public health benefit. The higher the price of a pack of cigarettes, the fewer the people who will buy them and smoke them, particularly young people."
Already this year, legislators in New York state have approved a 39-cent-a-pack cigarette tax increase. Beginning April 1, New York's cigarette tax will become $1.50 per pack, the highest in the nation.
Also, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to raise his city's tax on cigarettes from 8 cents a pack to $1.50. Combined with the new 39-cent state cigarette tax increase, the average cost of a pack of smokes in New York City would approach $7 -- the highest in the country.
The tobacco industry has been waging a state-by-state lobbying effort to try to snuff out the proposed increases.
Since 1993, the American Medical Association has advocated higher taxes on cigarettes to raise millions of dollars for state budgets while discouraging smoking.