The effort to raise South Carolina's cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack cleared its most stubborn hurdle Wednesday when House lawmakers overrode Gov. Mark Sanford's veto of the bill.
The Senate is expected to make the tax increase law today, ending a decade-long march toward increasing the lowest-in-the-nation 7-cent-a-pack cigarette tax.
The tax increase will raise a projected $135 million annually to be spent on state-run health care programs. Supporters also say the tax increase will discourage young people from taking up the habit.
"After 33 years, South Carolina is long overdue for a sweeping public health initiative that will protect thousands of South Carolinians from the ravages of tobacco addiction," said Nancy Cheney, government relations director for the American Cancer Society and a founding member of the S.C. Tobacco Collaborative.
Cheney has led the collaborative's 10-year effort to increase the tax.
According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a 50-cent increase will prevent more than 23,000 S.C. children from becoming smokers and persuade nearly 13,000 adult smokers to quit.
The House overrode Sanford on a 90-29 vote, a margin wider than expected considering lawmakers in border counties worried the increase would put S.C. merchants at a disadvantage with those in neighboring states. Also, many lawmakers have signed pledges not to raise taxes in a year the House is up for election.
In a brief and generally muted debate before the vote, advocates for the tax focused on the potential health benefits.
"We know it will raise revenue. We know it will save lives. We know it will deter young people from ever starting," said Rep. Anne Hutto, D-Charleston, on the House floor Wednesday.
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