ATLANTA (AP) — A bill is advancing in the Georgia House of Representatives to tax vaping products, but a key committee chairman is ruling out any increase in taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products.
The House Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to advance Senate Bill 375, regulating and tax vaping products in the same way that tobacco products are taxed and regulated. It moves to the House for more debate.
But Committee Chairman Brett Harrell, a Snellville Republican, said he's not interested in a Senate proposal in another bill that would more than tripled Georgia's tax on cigarettes.
After the meeting, Harrell repeated his position that he's willing to consider a tax increase, but wants a mathematical formula determining taxes to make sure Georgia doesn't get out of line with neighboring states, instead of just to pick a number.
"I'm open to it," Harrell said. "They're just not thinking about it the right way."
However, Harrell did not insert such language in the bill, telling House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, a Luthersville Democrat, that any such move would kill the effort to tax vaping products.
"We're missing an opportunity," Trammell said during the meeting.
A plan that passed a Senate committee last week would raise Georgia's tax on cigarettes from 37 cents a pack to $1.35 a pack. Georgia's current tax is the third-lowest among states. The federal government charges an additional $1.01 in taxes on each pack of 20 cigarettes. The full Senate has yet to consider that plan, with the General Assembly scheduled to adjourn for the year on Friday.
House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, has repeatedly objected to any tax increase. Harrell, a smoker, said Tuesday that Georgia's tax on cigars is too high and a proposal to drop the tax in the Senate proposal is "a bone for the chairman of Ways and Means who smokes several cigars every day."
The increase proposed by the Senate could raise $350 million a year or more when Georgia lawmakers are considering more than $2 billion in budget cuts. Anti-smoking advocates support it because higher taxes tend to drive down smoking. Also, less smoking-related disease would cut treatment costs now paid by the state-federal Medicaid health insurance program.