Soon it will be more expensive to be a tobacco user in Bethel. At the last regular meeting the Bethel City Council passed an ordinance that will increase taxes on all tobacco products sold in the city.
The ordinance will raise the price of cigarettes by $2.21 per pack and raise prices for other tobacco products by 45%.
Over a dozen people came before the council to express their opinions on the tax, and most were in favor of it.
Brian Knutson, a local physician assistant, said tobacco products cause “more deaths than deaths from HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and murders combined.”
Citizens who spoke before council praised the possibility of the tax ultimately causing people to quit tobacco for good.
They also said it could detour young people from picking up tobacco in the first place, something Doug Boyer, site administrator at the Bethel Alternative Boarding School, said he sees everyday.
“Close to 45-50% of my students have already have seen providers at the hospital to try and kick this tobacco,” Boyer said.
Though in the minority, not everyone in the gallery thought the tax was a good idea.
“One segment of the citizenry pushing for taxation on another segment of the citizenry because of behavior they don’t like is again self-righteous. It is hypocritical. And it’s all in order for people to feel good about themselves while creating class warfare,” said Johnny Furlong.
The City Council echoed the gallery, with most council members in favor of the tax, while a few were against it. The ordinance passed 4-2.
Council members Rick Robb and Mark Springer were the dissenting votes.
“This ordinance could have, potentially have very negative unintended consequences,” Robb said.
He said the tax could cause parents to spend extra money on tobacco that would normally go to feeding their children. He also says that retailers could be tempted to keep the price of tobacco at its current rate and pass the increased tax on to consumers through raising the prices of other products.
Bethel Mayor Joe Klejka says he doesn’t see retailers passing the buck on to non-tobacco users and sees the benefit in the tax.
“I don’t want to make the cost of killing yourself cheaper, I want to make the cost of killing yourself slowly by degrees higher,” Klejka said.
The financial aspect of the ordinance has not yet been worked out.
The City’s finance director has asked for sixty days to get everything in order before the tax is officially implemented.
Some on council would like to see all revenue raised from the tax go to city youth programs, while others would like to see that money put into the city’s general fund.