Lighting up in Kodiak could cost you a bit more.

On Tuesday night, the Kodiak City Council held preliminary discussion on implementing a citywide tax on all tobacco products. The tax is seen as a means to raise revenue without altering property or sales taxes.

“At least initially, I don’t think the citizens would have much of a problem with it,” said city manager Aimee Kniaziowski.

Betty McTavish, tobacco prevention counselor for the Kodiak Area Native Association, told the city council that raising taxes is the best way to deter smoking, and she offered her unqualified support.

Six Alaska communities already levy local tobacco taxes. Anchorage taxes cigarettes at $1.30 per pack and 45 percent on other tobacco prices. In the Mat-Su and Sitka boroughs, cigarettes are taxed at $1 per pack, and all other tobacco items are taxed at 45 percent.

Sitka, which has a similar population to Kodiak, raises an average of $450,000 per year through its tax, finance director Mary Munk told the council.

“It is a source of revenue,” she said.

Most communities that levy a tobacco tax use the proceeds to fund hospitals. Kodiak’s hospital is borough-owned, and the city has no health powers. Councilors instead discussed using tobacco tax revenue to fund athletics or parks programs but did not reach consensus.

Any tax would have to be coordinated with the borough to be effective, Kniaziowski said. Without some sort of coordination, smokers would simply buy tobacco outside city limits.

Kniaziowski said she has begun preliminary talks with the borough, and a tax is expected to be a topic of conversation at a joint city-borough work session scheduled for Tuesday night.

The city of Kodiak currently levies no “sin taxes” on alcohol, tobacco or other products. A proposal in 1983 to levy taxes on alcohol never passed beyond the planning stages, according to city records.

Last decade, a proposal to ban smoking in bars was shot down after smokers turned out en masse at a town hall meeting on the subject.

City councilman Randall Bishop, who owns the Mecca Lounge, said he’s open to the idea of a tobacco tax but wary of the notion that it could open the doors to further “sin taxes” on alcohol. “In my personal opinion, I wouldn’t want that to happen,” he said.

For tobacco, it’s a different story. “We’ve been smoke-free for the past four or five years,” he said. “We’ve lost some business to it, but my idea is … we also like to provide a healthy environment.”

The tobacco tax idea was forwarded to city administrators for further development.

The city council will meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the borough building for a regular meeting. On the council’s agenda is the first reading of the FY2014 city budget and an increased contract for Pier 3 surveying. The tobacco tax idea is not on the agenda.

Contact Mirror at editor James Brooks at editor@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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