by Kevin Allman
In last week's cover story, "Smoke-Filled Rooms," we looked at possible smoking bans and taxes that might be voted upon during the new legislative session:
Taxwise, Louisiana smokers have it good. Go buy a pack of butts in Mandeville or Monroe today and 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 HWC 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 cover, though, and what no one can predict right now, is what kind of fate such anti-smoking bills 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. Clancy DuBos was at a gathering of the GOP faithful in Harahan March 15 and reports Gov. Bobby Jindal is already rejecting the idea:
Jindal told a packed audience of GOP faithful 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 (LHH). 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 say the increased tax on cigarettes proposed in the Legislature will lead to a decrease in cigarette smoking, particularly among young smokers and potential smokers. ...
House Bill 437, 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 $0.36 per pack — is the 49th lowest in the country; only Virginia, with a state tax of $0.30, was lower.