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Its a proven deadly habit, but still more than 23 percent of adults in Arkansas are smokers.

Rep. Gene Shelby, D-Hot Springs, says, "This will have a tremendous impact."

Shelby knows the dangers of tobacco first hand.

"I ran for this office saying we need a doctor in the House," says Shelby.

As an emergency room physician, Shelby has always preached the health benefits of not smoking cigarettes. Now, he hopes a hit to the pocketbook will help give smokers the push they need to quit.

Shelby explains, "Many studies show increasing the price of cigarettes by 10 percent will cause a 4 to 7 percent reduction in usage especially among the young smokers, so from a public health point of view its just a really important issue."

A statewide health coalition known as "Step Up" is throwing its support behind the bill not only because it will cut down on smoking but also because the added state revenue would be allocated to community health centers and charitable clinics in Arkansas.

White River Rural Health System Executive Director Dr. Steven Collier says, "We have no money for buildings. We have really no monies for the extras to go in and develop these services."

Jefferson Care System, Inc. Executive Director Larnell Davis says, "This will allow us to maintain the services we currently provide and to increase access to those that are underserved and uninsured."

Shelbys proposal would increase the state tax on cigarettes by 50 cents bringing it to a total of $1.09 per pack.

"In Texas its a $1.41 and in Oklahoma they just went up on theirs and theirs is $1.10, so we'd be comparable with them," Shelby says.

Shelby knows its an issue that gets smokers hot under the collar.

"A lot of people feel like theyre being picked on because theyre smokers," he says.

But he says its a common sense bill that would benefit the overall health of all Arkansans.

Shelby says smokers are voicing strong opposition to the bill, but a recent poll by Opinion Research Associates shows 67 percent of Arkansans support a 50-cent tobacco tax increase, 29 percent oppose it.

The bill is expected to be introduced before the House Committee on Public Health next week. Alyson Courtney, Reporter

 

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