Tobacco products are still on track to become more expensive in Kodiak, as the Kodiak Island Borough has been discussing the idea of raising the excise tax on tobacco for the past several months. 

But as of last week, the amount that the tax could increase has itself increased. 

At the Sept. 17 borough meeting, assembly member Scott Arndt made a motion to adopt a version of the ordinance that would do four things. First, it would raise the per cigarette tax from 5 cents a cigarette to 10 cents on Jan. 1, 2021. Then it would raise it again from 10 cents to 15 cents on July 21, 2021. 

Cigarettes come in packs of 20, so the second bump adds up to $3 a pack. 

For the other tobacco products, the ordinance would raise the tax from 25% of the wholesale price to 50% in January, and then up to 75% in July. Arndt said the intention was to scale up the higher tax gradually, with hikes at each financial quarter. 

He further postponed the final vote, however, until the assembly’s Dec. 3 meeting to allow the assembly several work sessions to figure out licensing issues. A public hearing on the issue will precede the vote. 

The move, if adopted, would bring Kodiak in line with the amount that Juneau taxes cigarettes, but above what it taxes other tobacco products. 

Assembly member Dennis Symmons, who introduced the ordinance and said he uses tobacco himself, said he introduced the measure to raise money and stave off property tax increases.

At the meeting he was the sole dissenting vote to pass Arndt’s motion, however, because he favored a lower rate for both cigarettes and other tobacco products. The motion passed 5-1. 

Assembly member Duane Dvorak said the tax was about more than just raising money. 

“When this first came before us, it looked to me like an alternative revenue amendment,” he said. 

“I’ve watched this issue evolve and I’m firmly convinced now that we really need to consider the ordinance in some fashion really as a health issue as opposed to the revenue impact.” 

Betty MacTavish, who used to work at KANA as a tobacco education coordinator and now lobbies for tougher tobacco laws as a private citizen, has been a big part of persuading the borough to take the health part more seriously. For months, she has urged the borough to consider more than just raising money. 

“If your sole intent in passing the tobacco ordinance is to raise money for the borough, then go ahead and pass your original ordinance,” MacTavish said at last week’s meeting. 

“But I must remind you that every pack sold is $20 in direct medical costs caused by those cigarettes. You’ll never recoup those costs … Cigarettes are the only product that, when used as directed, will kill you.” 

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