Initiative would increase cigarette tax $1 per pack

by: John Knicely Updated:

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The cost of cigarettes will jump $1 per pack in Washington if a new initiative is passed by voters in November. 

Former Governor Chris Gregoire is leading the charge, but the state treasurer warns it might have unintended negative consequences.

Initiative 1356 aims to raise cigarette taxes by $1, and taxes on all other tobacco by 10 percent to fund cancer research.  It would create a $1 billion dollar fund to issue grant money for cancer research and care.  It would support places like Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

 “I think it's a reasonable thing to ask smokers to do,” said Pete Williamson of Bellingham.  “Having family members affected by cancer, knowing people affected by cancer, you have to raise money somehow and it seems like a reasonable thing to raise money for.”

 The initiative would be decided by voters on the November ballot.  Smoker Samuel Pierce of Seattle said there is no way will he vote for it.  He said it's another example of making tobacco users feel like second-class citizens.

“It would impact me hard,” said Pierce.  "I'd have to quit. I can't afford it now -- $7 for a pack of cheap cigarettes.”

Washington already has the fifth highest cigarette tax rate in the country at just over $3 per pack.

 “People should go a month without buying cigarettes and see how much we put into the economy,” said Pierce.

 That point isn't lost on some state leaders.  State Treasurer Jim McIntire says he supports cancer research, but he has concerns with the initiative. 

 First off, current cigarette tax money goes toward the general state fund.  Higher taxes could force people to quit, which would take money out of the general fund. 

 Secondly, using debt to finance operating expenditures is against state financial policy.  The treasurer's office told KIRO 7 if it passes, it could face legal challenges.

 You can read the whole initiative here: http://sos.wa.gov/_assets/elections/initiatives/FinalText_593.pdf