Senate Committee Agrees to Double Cigarette Tax

Knoxville (WVLT) - You're one step closer, to paying more to light up.

A key Tennessee Senate committee has okayed a plan to raise the cigarette tax 20 cents a pack, which could bring in a-hundred and 16 million dollars a year, for the General Fund.

Governor Bredesen would actually prefer a 40 cent per pack tax increase and democrats will still push for that.

The Governor wants the bulk of this higher cigarette tax to go for education, but those who buy and sell tobacco say the increase isn't needed.

If you end up paying 20 cents more a pack, Tennessee schools could see more money.

"We've looked at anywhere from maybe 4 to 6 million in additional dollars to Knox County, then that would be great,” Interim Superintendent Roy Mullins says which side of $4 to 6 million is hard to say, but any additional money would help. "It's exciting in the fact that I think we'll be able to do some additional initiatives."

One person who isn't excited about the possible increase is Smokin' Joe's owner Mike Hicks. He says the increase doesn't make sense. "The money is there in the budget, we have a $600 million surplus, and they haven't determined where that will be spent."

Hicks says two more dollars a carton won't have a drastic effect, but it will hurt business. "There will be some decrease initially, and then a few people will come back, and go back to buying the brand that they were once they get used to the extra 2 dollars."

Customers like Sandy Jones say it won't affect what she buys.

"Maybe in the future, if it gets way more expensive then it will, but not right now,” she says. "It'll probably be shocking, but I mean I'll still come back here."

Hicks says taxing tobacco is an easy, quick way to get additional revenue. "They think that if they target tobacco that there will be less outcry from the public because the majority of people do not smoke."

But the tax revenue could mean additional programs for local schools.

"I reckon it's in the literacy program, it's one that we're looking forward to using some of the dollars for,” Mullins says.

The tax increase will go to the senate floor for a vote where senate democratic leaders hope the original 40 cent increase proposed by Governor Bredesen will be restored.

Republicans say they hope to keep the tax increase low, or even lower than 20 cents.

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