Ohio considering higher taxes on some tobacco products

Health advocates are calling on lawmakers to raise taxes on tobacco products to fund prevention and cessation programs as they consider other health care reforms.

The Ohio House scrapped Gov. John Kasich’s plan to expand Medicaid, the federal- and state-funded medical insurance program for low-income and disabled Ohioans, earlier this year in favor of pursuing reforms to the $19.8 billion a year program.

One in four Ohio adults smokes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate is much higher — 42 percent— among Ohio’s 2.3 million Medicaid participants.

Shelly Kiser, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Ohio, said that translates to $1.4 billion spent each year in state Medicaid costs for smoking-related illnesses.

Some tobacco products such as hookah and chewing tobacco and cigars are not taxed as much as regular cigarettes and could be impacted by this proposal.

Kiser and other health advocates told lawmakers on a Senate panel that equalizing the tax on other tobacco products to 55 percent from 17 percent could raise revenue to help Medicaid participants quit and prevent more people from using tobacco.

Ohio allocates no state funds to tobacco prevention and cessation, ranking the state and three others last in the nation for funding. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Ohio spend $145 million each year from a $25.7 billion settlement between states and tobacco companies.

Ohio traded its share in for bonds to fill a budget hole in 2008, leaving local health districts to plan and fund programming.

Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, said she drafted an amendment to the state budget bill to equalize the tax. The amendment was not accepted in the Senate’s first round of revisions to the bill, but Jones said she would try to amend the bill again before it moves out of the Senate Finance Committee and to a full vote of the Senate.

Gregory Wellinghoff , owner of wholesale distributor Keilson Dayton, told lawmakers Thursday that raising the tax would not reduce smoking but encourage people to drive to neighboring states with lower taxes. Wellinghoff said stores in Hamilton and south Butler counties can’t sell a significant volume of cigarettes because of their proximity to Kentucky, where cigarettes are taxed 60 cents per pack compared to $1.25 cents in Ohio.

“Ohio is still going to have smokers, probably at similar levels as today,” said Wellinghoff, who also owns smoke shops in Southwest Ohio. “These people are going to buy their products out of Ohio. I’ll have to close my stores.”

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