South Carolina ranks among the worst states in the nation in smoking prevention efforts, according to a new report, just as lawmakers return to Columbia today with raising the state's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax a top issue.
According to the report by the American Lung Association, South Carolina is one of six states to score all "F's" for their efforts on tobacco prevention and control spending, smoke-free air laws and rules, taxing cigarettes and helping smokers kick the habit. The other states with all failing grades were Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.
All of those issues have been wrapped up in the 10-year push by anti-smoking and public health care groups to raise South Carolina's 7-cent per pack cigarette tax. Last year the House passed a bill to raise the tax 50 cents a pack, but questions about where the estimated $147 million would be spent split the General Assembly.
But a new issue could change this year's debate - the potential cost of health care reform legislation under debate in Congress, which could add $1 billion to S.C. Medicaid costs in the decade after passage, according to some estimates,.
"That's our biggest issue, what to do with the money," said Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler. "What is going to happen with Medicaid? You talk about a budget buster."
Votes during in the past two years have shown a majority of lawmakers in both houses agree the tax should be raised by 50 cents per pack, but Gov. Mark Sanford's veto has proved an obstacle to final passage.
Sanford has threatened to veto any cigarette tax increase that does not include an equivalent tax cut, and Peeler said the Senate likely could not reach the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. But Sanford spokesman Ben Fox said a federal health care bill might make a difference.
Sanford will oppose the federal bill, Fox said, but "wouldn't put a blanket prohibition on (using cigarette tax revenue) without seeing how it plays out."
Read more at TheState.com