Tax on tobacco could appear on October's ballot

A borough committee may organize to further investigate the merits of instituting an excise tax on tobacco after it was brought up for discussion during several sales tax ordinance committee meetings.

While an excise tax on tobacco doesn’t fall under the purview of the sales tax committee’s mission—which is to review and recommend changes to the sales tax code so the borough can generate an equal or greater amount of revenue—it did unofficially make a recommendation to the borough assembly that it consider a tax on tobacco.

Committee member John Murgas said the negative effects of tobacco dwarf the issues related to sales tax revenues.

“Anything that we can do to support this and bring the community into a meaningful discussion is well worth our time,” Murgas said. “What little we’ve done is what I’m most proud of with our meetings that we’ve had, that we’ve brought it up to light. I sure hope this continues.”

Mark Banda, Petersburg Indian Association’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Grant Coordinator, spoke in support of such a tax at the committee’s Tuesday meeting.

He cited the most recent municipality in Alaska to institute a tobacco tax, the City of Bethel which has a population around twice that of Petersburg Borough. Bethel has already seen a significant increase in revenue from the tax and city officials estimate a $300,000 overall increase after one year.

Banda said such taxes also curb overall smoking in communities.

“By raising these taxes, or by supporting this we would actually be saving lives and preventing youth initiation in tobacco use,” Banda said.

He cited statistics from a 2013 Petersburg Borough School District Youth Risk Behavior Survey, in which 29.7 percent of students reported smoking cigarettes.

Petersburg Medical Center CEO Liz Woodyard attended a sales tax committee meeting earlier this month and requested a tobacco tax be instituted with revenues going towards PMC capital projects.

At the same meeting, PMC Lab and Imaging Manager Liz Bacom reported 153 smoking related diagnoses at PMC during 2012, and that the equipment used to make such diagnoses costs thousands of dollars a month to maintain.

“To be able to have those kinds of high quality diagnostic equipment doesn’t come free,” Bacom said. “Cigarette tax would definitely be a benefit for our department because that’s a capital improvement.”

Committee member Sue Flint will present the committee’s recommendations to the borough assembly during its second meeting in March.

Flint said the committee would add Banda’s name to the list of a potential tobacco tax committee.


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