Delegates propose raising cigarette tax, banning sales of flavored tobacco products in Virginia

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Two Virginia delegates want to increase the cigarette tax by six times its current amount and ban the sales of flavored tobacco products in the commonwealth.

Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) and Del. Cliff Hayes (D-77th) hosted a Tobacco Control Policy Press Conference in Richmond Thursday outlining three tobacco-related bills: raising the cigarette tax to $1.80 (HB1120), creating a statewide retail licensing system (HB1283), and banning the sales of flavored tobacco products (HB1119).

The Virginia cigarette tax is currently at 30 cents, the second-lowest in the country. The new bill would increase the tax by $1.50, making it $1.80 — an amount closer to the national average of $1.81.

Backers of the bill say the increase would bring in $430 million of additional revenue, and a portion of that revenue would provide funding for youth tobacco and e-cigarette prevention, the state’s tobacco cessation quitline and merchant education.

HB1119 would prohibit the sale and distribution of all flavored tobacco products in Virginia. A first violation would impose a $500 fine, a $1000 for a second violation, $1,500 for a third violation, and $2,000 for the fourth or subsequent violation.

A summary of the bill said a study showed that the first tobacco product used by 81% of youth is a flavored tobacco product.

“We must act now to stop tobacco companies from addicting a new generation of kids with flavored products. We need a permanent fix: ban all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, flavored cigarettes, and flavored cigars,” Del. Hayes said. 

The third bill would create a licensing system that would create a comprehensive list of tobacco retailers in the state.

In a summary of the bill, it says that only about 8% of Virginia’s tobacco retailers have compliance checks done each year. It also says the state’s retailer compliance continues to decrease, making tobacco products more accessible to people under the age of 21.

According to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 6.2 million kids altogether reported using some type of tobacco product in 2019. The number of middle and high school students who use e-cigarettes has skyrocketed to more than 5 million, the survey showed.

“These bills are important to me on a personal level having had the opportunity to mentor many young people, coach many young people in little league baseball, football … only to later see them start in the early ages as teens, smoking,” Del. Hayes continued.

A spokesperson for Richmond-based Altria Group, Inc., one of the world’s largest tobacco producers in the U.S., told 8News they are opposed to the legislation and said the state should “strongly reconsider high taxes and flavor bans that may undercut federal actions by fueling illicit trade and will thwart important public health goals.”

“Altria’s tobacco operating companies oppose tobacco product excise tax increases that are unfair to adult tobacco consumers, create additional incentives for tobacco product trafficking, harm states by increasing incentives for adult tobacco consumers to buy tobacco products through lower tax or untaxed venues, are costly to legitimate businesses, including retailers and wholesalers, and can lead to less stability in the states’ finances,” the Altria spokesperson said.

Governor Ralph Northam’s proposed budget already includes a 30 cent cigarette tax increase.

“The governor’s proposed budget includes a 30 cent increase in our cigarette tax — currently the second-lowest in the country — to lower health care premiums across Virginia and to increase funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs. He will thoroughly review these pieces of legislation if and when they reach his desk,” Northam’s spokesperson said in regard to the three proposed tobacco-related bills.

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