Editorial: Mississippi doctor suggests smokers pay for road repairs

  • Monday, May 28, 2018 10:21am
  • Opinion

Reducing Mississippi’s smoking rates while improving the state’s roads and bridges sounds like a proposal that’s too good to be true.

That’s because, for the most part, it is.

But that’s not stopping a Mississippi family physician’s ongoing quest to implement a cigarette tax under the guise that the additional revenue go toward the state’s infrastructure.

The mission itself represents an admirable approach and outside-the-box thinking that could kill two birds with one stone, something we should be seeing more of from our elected representatives who seem more focused on simply kicking the can down the road.

Mississippi Medical Association President Dr. William Grantham has been traveling the state proposing a $1.50 hike in the cigarette tax, which would mean smokers would pay $2.18 in tax on every pack. The additional revenue would generate an estimated $166 million, which Grantham and the medial association believe could shore up the state’s crumbling infrastructure system.

Grantham admits that, for him, the initiative is more focused on public health. “Where the revenue goes is less relevant than it needs to get done,” Grantham told the Daily Journal’s Michaela Gibson Morris during an interview.

Higher taxes encourage existing smokers to quit and could be effective in diminishing youth smoking. From the medical perspective, fewer smokers decrease the rates of cancer, lung disease, heart attacks and strokes.

Mississippi smokers currently pay 68 cents in taxes per pack; the national average is $1.70 per pack. With bipartisan support, the state senate passed a cigarette tax increase during the 2018 session, but it did not clear the state house. If that increase would have passed, Mississippi would have become one of the highest taxed states in the nation and the highest in the region.

The physician group hopes pairing the cigarette tax with infrastructure revenue might gain traction if the governor calls a special session.

We’re not as confident as the group that the initiative will gain traction, but we applaud the effort and commend these health officials for proposing a solution to two significant issues our state is facing.

This type of thinking is exactly what we should be seeing more of from our leaders in Jackson. For the past several years, long-term infrastructure funding plans have made little traction thanks to political bickering. After the fingers are pointed all around, Mississippians are left with no viable solutions to consider.

A handful of Northeast Mississippi legislators seemed interested in considering a cigarette tax as a public health measure but not as a long-term viable option for infrastructure.

If that’s the case, separate the two and move forward. Take up the cigarette tax next session as a public health item and bring an innovative infrastructure proposal to the table sooner rather than later.

— Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo, Mississippi, May 22

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