Despite Low Tobacco Taxes, North Dakota Enjoys Very Low Tobacco Use Rates

Lawmakers will be considering two separate bills to hike tobacco taxes in North Dakota this session.

HB1421, sponsored by Rep. Jon Nelson (R-Rugby), would raise the per-pack tax on cigarettes by about 250 percent, from $0.44 per pack to $1.54. It would also include these other increases:

  • The tax on snuff would go from $0.60 per ounce to $2.72 per ounce, a 353 percent increase.
  • The tax on chewing tobacco would go from $0.15 per ounce to $0.73 per ounce, a 356 percent increase.

On the Senate side, Senator Tim Mathern (D-Fargo) has introduced SB2322 which would raise the per-pack tax on cigarettes to $2.00 per pack, a 354 percent increase. Like Nelson’s bill, it contains tax increases for other tobacco products as well:

  • The tax on snuff would go from $0.60 per ounce to $2.10 per ounce, a 250 percent increase.
  • The tax on chewing tobacco would go from $0.15 to $0.56 per ounce, a 250 percent increase.

The idea behind these increases is that tobacco in North Dakota is too cheap, so too many people are using it. “Until the state raises the cigarette tax, the tobacco industry will continue to have the advantage over our youth,” Nelson said during a press conference at the capitol per Mike Nowtazki.

But is that true? According to the CDC, North Dakota’s smoking rates are very low despite the state also having some of the lowest tobacco taxes in the nation. The state ranks just 37th out of 50 states for adult smoking, and 49th for the use of smokeless tobacco.

In terms of youth cigarette use, North Dakota ranked just 34th among the 44 states that reported data. For use of all forms of tobacco by youths (cigarettes, chew, etc.), North Dakota ranked 30th among 36 states reporting data.

Proponents of raising the state’s tobacco taxes would have us believe that low taxes are encouraging more tobacco use. But that contention isn’t supported by the data.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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