Coalition Pushes For Higher Cigarette Tax

A coalition traveling the state to gather support for a cigarette tax hike, made a stop on the coast Friday. Communities For A Clean Bill of Health is made up of 40 organizations, including the American Cancer, Lung and Heart associations.

Thursday, the Mississippi house voted to increase the cigarette tax by 82 cents to one dollar. Now a local physician talks about why he's throwing his support behind the cause.

Dr. Sid Ross says taking a deep breath is much too difficult for too many people. The director of Moss Point Coastal Family Health Center, says half of its elderly patients are for treated smoking related illnesses.

"They just can't get their breath, so that drives them to come visit very often," said Dr. Ross.

Repeated trips to the doctor. Ongoing medical problems. Dr. Ross says deteriorating health is often is not enough to persuade patients to part with their cigarettes.

"I am not your decider," said Dr. Ross. "I'm your advisor. So each time they come, I will firmly recommend that they stop smoking. "

Dr. Ross believes getting people to quit for good, would be easier if the state legislature raised the cigarette tax. That's why the coalition Communities For a Clean Bill of Health, is telling the public that a tax hike from 18 cents to 1 dollar a pack will save lives.

Kari Abernathy of Communities For A Clean Bill of Health said, "Research shows that if you increase the amount of a pack of cigarettes, that consumption will go down. Not only in the people that are currently smoking, but in our youth, and that is really important.

Dr. Ross worries about the youth. He started smoking as a teenager and it took him 20 years to quit. He says if expensive cigarettes keep young people out of his examination room years from now, it's well worth it.

"I was asked, 'Why not legislate cigarettes out?' I said it did not work with prohibition. It will not work here. We cannot legislate morality, but we can make it too pricey. "

Communities For A Clean Bill of Health says 4,700 adult Mississippians die each year from smoking. Another 400 die from second hand smoke. Along with saving lives, the coalition says the tax hike would generate an additional $169 million a year.