ATLANTA - Georgia lawmakers are considering hiking the state's tax on cigarettes from 37 cents to 68 cents per pack, making it one of the highest in the region.
The 84 percent increase is part of a plan set out by the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians to revamp the state's tax code. The increased tax on smokes would create another $114 million in revenue for the cash-strapped state.
Council member Gerry Harkins said the 11-member tax reform group tried to find a tax rate that was in the middle of surrounding states.
"We wanted to be somewhere in between. Something that wouldn't hit the retail establishments too hard," he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But smokers and some store owners say the move is unfair and will drive business across state lines where taxes are cheaper.
"Tobacco has always been the whipping boy when it comes to taxes," Thomas Patton, owner of the Ash Cigar Co. in Buckhead, told the newspaper. "I'm not surprised that they want to do this, but it's not right."
Health advocates say the tax hike is not enough to help discourage people from lighting up.
Dan Curran, spokesman for a coalition that includes the American Heart and Lung Association and the American Cancer Society, said raising the tax by $1 per pack would bring in more than $354 million but keep the tax below the national average of $1.45.
The state's cigarette tax has been 37 cents since 2003, when it was raised 12 cents.
The increase would still keep Georgia among the lowest cigarette taxes in the country. In New York, the tax alone is $4.35, while in Rhode Island it's $3.46 and Michigan it's $2.52.