Raise it for Health ND collects more than 20,000 signatures to put tobacco tax measure on November ballot

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North Dakota hasn't raised the excise tax on tobacco in 23 years.

One group just got a step closer to changing that.

Raise It for Health North Dakota wants to up the excise tax on tobacco from 44 cents to $2.20 per pack.

Raise It for Health North Dakota needed to roll in about 13,450 signatures to Secretary of State Al Jaeger's office to put a measure on the ballot that would raise the tobacco tax. The group exceeded that by about 9,000.

"Based on the fact that I have 22,000 signatures in front of me, I think that speaks very loudly to the fact that North Dakotans do promote tobacco prevention, and I think that going to the people and the voice of the people is the best way to do it," says Kristie Wolff, Raise It for Health North Dakota.

Wolff estimates the measure would raise about $100 million per year.

The breakdown is as follows:

50%/$50 million/year - Veteran's tobacco tax trust fund
35%/$35 million/year - Behavioral Health Comprehensive Plan, administered by the ND Behavioral Health Planning Council
10%/$10 million/year - Counties for essential local health unit services, established by the state health council
5%/$5 million/year​ - Chronic disease prevention, treatment and control, administered by the Department of Health

"We have thousands of veterans that are sitting, not being taken care of for the mental health side of it, as well as traumatic brain injury. This will help," says David Johnson, North Dakota Veteran's Coordinating Council.

Opponents, however, say the tax targets lower income brackets and that the government shouldn't be influencing people's legal decisions.

"If we respect that government's job isn't to be taxing and trying to modulate people's behavior, then it doesn't matter if it's a behavior that you have or that someone else has, it's just not the right thing," says Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger has 35 days to review the signatures and determine if they're valid.