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January 15. 2013 8:34PM

Lung Association wants $1 hike in NH tobacco tax

MANCHESTER - New Hampshire should consider raising its cigarette tax by $1 and devoting state tax dollars to anti-smoking programs, the American Lung Association said in a state-by-state tobacco report card released Tuesday.

The Lung Association gave the Granite State some of the lowest rankings in the Northeast in categories dealing with the cigarette tax, spending on tobacco prevention, smoke-free air and cessation programs.

It also noted that New Hampshire has the highest youth smoking rate in the region - 19.8 percent compared to 12.5 percent nationally - and that no state tax dollars are spent on programs to discourage smoking.

"We should be embarrassed," said Jeff Seyler, president and chief executive of the American Lung Association of the Northeast, in a telephone press conference Tuesday. "Our goal is to decrease these rates, and we should act quickly."

He said a $1 increase in the cigarette tax would discourage smoking, especially among youth, who are sensitive to higher prices.

In 2011, Republicans pushed through a 10-cent cut in the state cigarette tax, lowering it to $1.68 a pack, the lowest in the Northeast. It is scheduled to increase by a dime automatically on Aug. 1 if cigarette tax revenues fall below previous levels.

While advocating for a $1 increase, the Lung Association acknowledged it does not have the legislative support to do so. Marc Goldberg, spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan, said Tuesday the state should reverse the 10-cent cut in the cigarette tax "in order to help improve the health of our communities."

The organization gave New Hampshire a C grade on its cigarette tax. Other grades were:

- Spending on tobacco prevention programs: F. Only $1.3 million is spent in New Hampshire on such efforts, all of it federal money. Most states devote some money to discourage smoking. The Centers for Disease Control said $19.2 million should be spent in the state.

-- Smoke free air: D. Smoking is prohibited outright in public schools, restaurants, most bars and child-care facilities. However, it is allowed with restrictions in private and government work sites, gambling sites, retail stores and recreational facilities.

Also, state law prohibits communities from adopting restrictions tougher than state laws.

-- Smoking cessation: C. New Hampshire Medicaid covers smoking cessation medicine and counseling. But the state does not mandate private insurance to provide smoking cessation, and the state quit-line is operated at a cost of $6.51 per smoker vs. a recommended $10.53.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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