Tax me: 12 cents a pack in Charlottesville

In 1993, anyone buying cigarettes in the city limits had the chance– nay the duty– to contribute to City Hall. The Charlottesville cigarette tax made its debut at 12 cents a pack. But as it contributes only about $300,000 to the public coffers, the local tax pales beside what Mark Warner wants.

The Governor wants Virginia to leap from its current ranking as the state with the lowest tobacco tax– 2.5 cents per pack– to something a little closer to the national average of 72.9 cents a pack. Warner has reportedly claimed that the tax increase would raise about $150 million annually.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the tax increase would prevent about 21,000 kids from starting the habit and save 10,200 Virginians from smoking-caused deaths. The Campaign also claims the tax will deliver $384 million in long-term healthcare savings.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Tobacco Growers Association opposes any increase on the state's #1 cash crop and finds the 2.5-cent figure a little misleading– because Virginia cities can tack on their own taxes (such as Charlottesville's 12 cents). Indeed, part of the Governor's deficit-reduction plan would give counties the same right as cities to add their own tobacco taxes.

"We realize that the state's budget is not as strong as it should be, and we understand the Governor and populace would look to tobacco as a revenue source," says Don Anderson, director of the Association and a fourth generation tobacco farmer.

One thing that has largely gone unmentioned in the tobacco debate is the black market. Virginians will probably not head north to New York City where state and local taxes add $3 to the price of each pack of smokes. But Virginia smokers might head "north" to find a state with cigarette taxes of just five cents a pack: North Carolina.