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franklin county times

Forum on cigarette tax draws small crowd

By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
Dec. 11, 2002
The public forum on increasing the state tax on cigarettes broke up about an hour earlier than planned on Tuesday.
Fewer than 40 people attended the meeting that featured speakers who want a 50-cent excise tax increase on each pack of cigarettes sold in Mississippi.
Patricia Smith, director of development for Boys and Girls Club of East Mississippi, where the forum was held, said she wished more people had attended.
As a former smoker, she also said she understands why people who smoke wouldn't want to attend the forum. She also said the rain Tuesday may have discouraged people.
Some of those who attended were smokers, however. Smith said half a dozen students enrolled in GED classes at Boys and Girls Club, administered by the Meridian Public School District, were smokers who came to the forum.
Sean Courtney, one of the guest speakers, was not concerned by the turnout.
Getting the message out
Courtney is program manager of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, which awarded a grant to the Boys and Girls Club so that it could hold the forum. He also is a representative of Communities of a Clean Bill of Health, a statewide coalition of organizations pushing for the tax increase.
Courtney said he expects to see bills for the tax increase introduced next year in both the House and the Senate. He said Sen. Deborah Dawkins, D-Pass Christian, attended a similar forum in Hattiesburg last week and Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, attended a forum held in Hernando on Monday.
Other towns where forums have been held include Tupelo, Vicksburg, Cleveland and Gulfport.
Mississippi last raised taxes on cigarettes in 1985 to 18 cents per pack. If another 50-cent tax is added, it would bring Mississippi's tax on cigarettes up to 68 cents per pack. The national average for states is about 66 cents per pack. Supporters of the tax increase want money raised to be used for critical health care needs in the state. They believe the increase will generate about $122 million in tax revenue, discourage people from starting to smoke and encourage smokers to quit.

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