By Mike Nowatzki / Forum News Service
A group frustrated with the North Dakota Legislature’s repeated refusal to raise tobacco taxes will attempt to put the issue to voters in November, announcing a ballot initiative Wednesday that would hike the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.76.
Backers will need to gather 13,452 signatures by July 11 to place the initiated measure on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Dr. Eric Johnson, a Grand Forks physician and chairman of the measure’s 30-member sponsoring committee, estimated the higher tax would reduce youth smoking by 20 percent, preventing 5,800 youths from ever starting smoking.
He noted North Dakota voters approved a tobacco use prevention and control program in 2008 and passed a smoke-free workplace law in 2012, calling the higher tax “kind of the missing leg of the three-legged stool.”
“We do know that it reduces usage, and that saves money for everybody,” he said.
Supporters estimate the tax increase would generate more than $100 million every two years. Half of the money would be dedicated to a new trust fund to support services and programs for military veterans, while the rest would go into a community health trust fund.
North Dakota’s current tax of 44 cents on a pack of cigarettes ranks 47th lowest among states and hasn’t been increased since 1993, despite several attempts in the Legislature, including two bills defeated last year after strong pushback from retailers and distributors.
If approved by voters, the proposed new tax of $2.20 per pack would be lower than Minnesota’s $3-per-pack tax but higher than Montana’s $1.70 and South Dakota’s $1.53. The national average is $1.61 per pack.
The measure is being pushed by the Raise it for Health Coalition, which consists of 10 groups: the North Dakota Medical Association, American Lung Association in North Dakota, North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council, Tobacco Free North Dakota, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, North Dakota Nurses Association, North Dakota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, March of Dimes, North Dakota Association of Counties and the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch.