Effort to raise ND tobacco tax moves forward

BISMARCK, N.D. (Valley News Live) A group working to increase North Dakota's tax on tobacco is one step closer to getting the issue to voters.

Members of the Raise it for Health North Dakota coalition delivered over 22,000 signatures to the North Dakota Secretary of State Thursday to support a ballot initiative to increase North Dakota’s tobacco tax for the first time in more than 20 years.

State law requires 13,452 validated and approved signatures to become a measure on the General Election ballot in November.

If approved, the measure would increase the tax on cigarettes from $0.44 per pack to $2.20 pack. The tax on on tobacco products, including liquid nicotine, would go from 28% to 56% of the wholesale purchase price.

Money from the increase, estimated at over $200 million for the first 2 years, would be dedicated to fund health care services and programs for North Dakota veterans and those struggling with mental illness, addiction disorders, and chronic disease.

“We are overwhelmed by the response from North Dakotans to this initiative. More than 150 volunteers pitched in to collect significantly more signatures than what we needed,” said Kristie Wolff, Tobacco Control Manager with the American Lung Association in North Dakota.

She added, “That’s a sign of the strength of our coalition as well as the public’s continued support for our kids, veterans, and individuals struggling with serious health conditions, mental illness, and addiction disorders.”

“Increasing the price of tobacco is proven to be the most effective way to prevent youth from ever starting, and this initiative is estimated to reduce youth smoking rates by 20%, preventing 5,800 youth from ever starting," said Dr. Eric Johnson, chairman of the sponsoring committee and a Grand Forks physician.

"If passed, this will be one of the most significant public health interventions ever undertaken in our state with respect to the lives saved through reduced smoking, those who will never start, and the savings in health care costs that will be realized as a result.”

The proposed increase would bring North Dakota’s cigarette tax in line with neighboring states, which average $2.08 per pack. North Dakota last increased its tobacco taxes in 1993 and ranks 47th in the nation for cigarette tax rates.