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Ballot initiative on raising ND tobacco tax to be announced

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BISMARCK – A group of partners is proposing a ballot measure to increase the tobacco tax in North Dakota, after state lawmakers defeated two efforts last year to raise the tax for the first time since 1993.

The coalition, Raise it for Health North Dakota, will announce its plans during a press conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the North Dakota Association of Counties building at 1661 Capitol Way in Bismarck.

Kristie Wolff, program manager of tobacco control and advocacy for the American Lung Association in North Dakota, said the coalition would not release any details about the ballot initiative before then.

In February 2015, House lawmakers voted 34-56 to reject a bipartisan bill that would have increased the excise tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.10, from 44 cents to $1.54. A companion bill that would have raised the cigarette tax to $2 per pack died in the Senate on a vote of 17-30.

Supporters of increasing the tax argued that the 44-cent tax hasn’t been raised since 1993 and that increasing it would put North Dakota on par with the national average, save millions in avoided health care costs, prevent young people from starting smoking and give adults the incentive they need to quit.

Retailers and distributors who opposed raising the tax warned that it would have a devastating impact on businesses, spur cigarette smuggling and unfairly burden smokers who can least afford it.

Only Missouri, Georgia and Virginia have lower cigarette taxes than North Dakota. South Dakota’s tax is $1.53 per pack, while Montana’s is $1.70 and Minnesota’s is $3, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The national average is $1.61 per pack.

When the House bill was defeated, lead sponsor Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby, predicted a possible statewide vote on the issue, saying if the Legislature didn’t act to increase tobacco taxes, “the people of North Dakota will, and I hope you like what they come up with.”

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