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Group seeks $1 per pack tax increase

The Fargo Cass Tobacco Prevention Network is hoping to step up Gov.

The Fargo Cass Tobacco Prevention Network is hoping to step up Gov. John Hoeven's proposed tax hike on tobacco products in North Dakota.

The Network, backed by Fargo city officials, wants to see the state's tobacco tax raised $1 per pack, or 65 cents more than Hoeven proposed in his state budget address last week.

The Network's suggestion is similar to one proposed last week by the Minnesota Smoke Free Coalition.

The revenue generated from the tax increase would drastically reduce tobacco use among teens and adults and allow the Network to do more smoking cessation programs, said Rich Fenno, tobacco control coordinator for Fargo Cass Public Health.

Fargo officials suggested the tax hike as part of their 2003 wish list presented to area legislators Thursday.

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While the tax increase has not earned formal approval from the City Commission, the idea would not have been suggested to legislators if the city didn't agree with it, said City Administrator Pat Zavoral.

The Tobacco Prevention Network has not yet made a formal appeal to state leaders.

In his $5 billion budget plan unveiled last Wednesday, Hoeven called for the state cigarette tax to be increased by 35 cents. The tax also would apply to cigars and chewing tobacco.

North Dakota's cigarette tax is now 44 cents per pack. Minnesota has a cigarette tax of 48 cents per pack.

If the Prevention Network is successful in its cause, North Dakota's state cigarette tax would be $1.44, among the highest in the nation.

According to the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids, Massachusetts has the highest state cigarette tax at $1.51. New York and New Jersey charge $1.50 per pack. On the other end of the spectrum, Virginia's cigarette tax is only a quarter of a cent.

Some city and county governments also apply a cigarette tax and a sales tax to the price of cigarettes.

Fenno said it is important North Dakota be a leader in greatly taxing smokers so fewer will choose to do so, making the state healthier.

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Research in other states has shown for every 10 percent cigarette prices increased, smoking rates decreased 4 percent in adults and 7 percent in teenagers.

"Anything we can get would be an improvement," Fenno said.

Revenue from the current 44-cent state cigarette tax is not specifically earmarked for anti-smoking efforts.

Instead, that money goes into the state's general fund, said Kathleen Mangskau, tobacco program administrator for the North Dakota Department of Health.

The Fargo Cass Tobacco Prevention Network does receive some money for anti-smoking efforts from the recent tobacco settlements.

In a two-year time span, the Network will receive $322,000 in settlement money for community programs and $334,000 for school programs. That's about 10 percent of the state's total settlement.

Revenue generated from the possible tax hike could allow the settlement money to focus more on prevention efforts, said Mary Kay Herrmann, director of Fargo Cass Public Health.

The Network would like to see a portion of the $1 tax increase go toward a statewide "quit smoking" phone line and other cessation programs.

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"If we can spend a little on this now, it'll save us a lot in the future," Fenno said.

Increasing the cigarette tax also could provide some core funding to boost the school nurse program, Herrmann said.

"Raising the tax would produce the most immediate effects," Herrmann said. "If you have to pay a dollar more per pack, it's going to make you think twice."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mary Jo Almquist at (701) 241-5531

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