With its relatively low cigarette tax, New Hampshire has the dubious distinction of boasting the highest youth smoking rate in the Northeast. A study done by the New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services showed that 19.8 percent of high school students in New Hampshire smoke cigarettes.
Raising the tobacco tax by at least $1 this year is high on the list of priorities the American Lung Association has outlined for New Hampshire.
“We know from research an increase by a dollar will impact people’s impact to smoke,” said Lee Gilman, senior director of health education in New Hampshire for the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “The price becomes an issue. Teens and young adults are particularly price sensitive.”
At least one young smoker agrees.
John Phillips, 17, of Derry smokes, but said a price increase would likely push him to kick the habit.
“I would absolutely stop buying them,” Phillips said. “It’s my money. They’re just too expensive right now. I wouldn’t be able to afford them.”
That might surprise Rep. Gary Azarian, R-Salem.
He said he doesn’t think New Hampshire’s tobacco tax should go much higher than the $1.78 it could revert to July 1.
“I think it would ruin cross-border sales,” Azarian said. “It would decrease lottery and liquor sales. If it is too much of an increase, it will be counterproductive.”
And, he said, he doesn’t believe a tax hike would result in fewer smokers.
“I don’t think raising the tax rate will decrease the amount of kids will smoke,” he said. “I think the state has to do a better job through health and human services to make sure kids aren’t smoking.”
But that takes money and that, Lung Association officials said, is New Hampshire’s problem.
“We are urging Gov. Hassan and state legislators to raise the cigarette tax in New Hampshire and to use cigarette tax revenue to fund the state’s tobacco control program,” Gilman said.