Jindal: No new taxes on tobacco

by Walter Pierce

Louisiana's state cigarette tax - at 36 cents per pack - is the 49th lowest in the country; only Virginia, with a state tax of 30 cents, was lower. For last week's cover story, "Smoke Signals," The Independent Weekly teamed up with New Orleans' Gambit to look at possible smoking bans and taxes that might be voted upon during the new legislative session, noting that taxwise, Louisiana smokers have it good: If you buy a pack of butts in Mandeville or Monroe today, you'll pay 36 cents per pack in state taxes, well below New York and well below the national average of $1.45.

In 2009, the last time the Louisiana Legislature conducted a fiscal session, the House Health and Welfare Committee shot down a proposed tax hike of $1, which would have created a new state tax of $1.36 per pack and brought the price of a pack of smokes closer to the national average.

What the stats don't tell, we noted, and what we were unable to predict for the cover story, was what kind of fate such anti-smoking bills would have when faced by a governor who refuses to pass taxes - no matter the cause and effect - and a Legislature that is largely up for re-election later this fall.

And now we know the answer. Gambit Publisher Clancy DuBos was at a gathering of the GOP faithful in Harahan March 15 and says Gov. Bobby Jindal is already rejecting the idea. Jindal told a packed audience of GOP supporters and elected officials that he will not budge on his opposition to taxes - not even on cigarette taxes, which many people favor as a way to reduce smoking.

Jindal began his career in Louisiana public service under then-Gov. Mike Foster, who appointed the 25-year-old Jindal to the position of secretary of the Department of Louisiana Health & Hospitals. In 2005, the LHH came out strongly in favor of increasing state cigarette taxes:

Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Dr. Fred Cerise and other DHH medical directors said in a press release at the time that the increased tax on cigarettes proposed in the Legislature would lead to a decrease in cigarette smoking, particularly among young smokers and potential smokers.

House Bill 437, currently under review in the Legislature, proposes adding an extra dollar in taxes on each package of cigarettes sold in Louisiana. The tax revenue would go to fund other state programs.

Dr. Cerise, State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry, Medicaid Medical Director Dr. Roxane Townsend and the state's nine public health regional medical directors all say the higher tax on cigarettes and a higher price per pack could serve as a big deterrent from smoking.

According to a 2010 table from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Louisiana's state cigarette tax - at 36 cents per pack - is the 49th lowest in the country; only Virginia, with a state tax of 30 cents, was lower.