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Smoking figures prove a GOP tobacco tax cut a bad idea, Dayton says

Governor Dayton's message to the GOP is as subtle as a Cuban cigar.
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Governor Mark Dayton is still trying to persuade Republicans to renegotiate the tax bill passed as part of the state's budget last week, and thinks new figures on smoking rates help his case.

His office sent out a Minnesota Department of Health report saying that since the legislature in 2013 increased the tax on tobacco, adding $1.60 to a pack of cigarettes, smoking among adults has decreased by 10 percent.

Of those who quit the habit, 62.8 percent said that the price increase was the main motivation, while 61 percent of all smokers said the price hike had at least made them consider whether to continue. The smoking rate among young people has also gone down, with a third fewer 11th graders smoking now compared to 2013.

This study, Dayton says, shows the benefits of making cigarettes less accessible to children and more expensive to adults.

One of Dayton's key objections to the legislature's tax bill concerns provisions that would reduce the current $3.50 tax on premium cigars to just 50 cents and freezes the cigarette tax at current levels instead of letting it rise with inflation.

The debate over tobacco tax

The release of the MDH report is a not-so-subtle jab against Dayton's Republican opponents, whose attempts to reduce tobacco taxes the governor described in his statement as "reprehensible." He also urged the GOP to "return to the table to correct their grave errors."

MPR reports that those critical of the cigarette tax say it's harmed tobacco retailers, particularly in border cities where cheaper alternatives can be found in neighboring states, and also suggest it's leading to an increase in cigarette smuggling.

But anti-smoking groups hail it as a success, with Anne Yoder of Clearway Minnesota telling the news organization: "We've seen historic drops in youth smoking and adult smoking since 2013, and any attempt to weaken tobacco prices as these will is a step in the wrong direction."

The Republicans in the legislature are currently considering legal action against Dayton, who signed the budget last week but attached a proviso that he would defund the Senate and House unless the Republicans renegotiate the tax bill.

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