Measure 4: tax increase on tobacco products

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BISMARCK, N.D. - There's been a lot of controversy this election season, from the presidential nominees to local politics.

You may have seen billboards or received cards in the mail to 'Vote No on Measure 4.' If passed, the measure would increase the tax on smoking products, which one coalition is strongly against.

Driving in Bismarck-Mandan area it's hard to miss the billboards and signs to 'Vote No on Measure 4' - what the opposition to the measure is calling the '400 percent tax increase.'

"Any increase is going to seem like a large increase percentage-wise. What we have to realize is 400 percent is equal to $1.76 tax cents. So this a $1.76 tax increase. Percentage-wise it seems large just because we are so low. We need to have a significant increase in order to have an impact," says Kristie Wolff, Tobacco Control and Advocacy, American Lung Association Program Manager.

Wolff says the tax increase would reduce youth smoking rates by 20 percent.

"I'm not going to argue the merits of the health issues on smoking. I mean, this is a 400% tax increase. We've been through the legislative process numerous attempts to increase the tobacco tax in North Dakota, it failed in the last session twice. The Peace Garden State ranks 47th in the nation, having the third-lowest tobacco tax at 44 cents. The tax hasn't been increased since 1993. In surrounding states, Montana has a current tax of $1.70 per pack, South Dakota $1.53 and Minnesota at $3.00 per pack," says Mike Rud, Chairman ND Against Tax Increase.

"If you look at the opposition and who's funding it, the tobacco industry has put $3.5 million into the position's campaign. The reason they are fighting it so hard is because they know it works, they are trying to protect their profits," says Wolff.

"You talk about $3.5 million, or whatever the number they are throwing around in our coalition, there's $55 million sitting in that account. Why aren't we spending that to prevent kids from starting smoking in the first place? Let's spend that money first, then if we need more money go down that road," says Rud.

Rud argues there are only four sentences in a nine-page measure vaguely describing where the money from the tax will go.

According to Wolff, with the new tax, 50 percent will go to the veteran's tobacco tax trust fund, the other half will go to community health. Seventy percent in behavioral health services, 20 percent public health clinics across the state, 10 percent chronic disease prevention and detection. Of the original 44 cents, 40 will continue to go to the general fund, four cents back to cities.

Whether you vote yes or no, the secretary of state encourages all voters to be educated on the measure.

For more information on Measure 4 and others on the ballot go to vote.nd.gov.