New Tobacco Tax Has Smokers On Edge

OMAHA (kptm) - A new occupation tax on cigarettes has smokers on edge and a state senator wants to introduce a bill this session that could help.

"They just keep getting higher and higher and it doesn't seem like they're taxing much else other than the cigarettes that I've been spending money for and paying taxes on for years," smoker Tamara Barker says.

3 percent, that's how much more smokers are paying for their cigarettes with the new occupation tax. Smoker Marjeen Reed says, "It's just that we're always getting hit, the smokers and alcohol we're always getting it, is that where they get the sin tax? We're sinners?"

The Omaha City Council voted in favor of the tax last year to help pay for the UNMC Cancer Center. "That's exactly what it should be for ya know, actually I think it'd be a good thing," Ernest Kain says.

But not everyone agrees. State Senator Bob Krist says the tax was never intended to be used as a point of sale tax. "I think it's inappropriate first of all for the political subdivisions to target that product or commodity. That's never intended to be the subject of an occupation tax," Krist says.

He says he supports the tax and UNMC, but not how it was put in place. The public never voted on the tax and now he's planning to introduce a bill in the legislature that will make clear how occupation tax should be used. "I'm all for development and revenue and the development that we need to progress as a city but I mean the ends does not justify the means. It makes no difference if you're building a hospital for Mother Teresa or an executive washroom, go back and get a vote of the people and have it affirmed because that's what we're supposed to do," Krist says.

Senator Krist plans to introduce the new bill next week when the legislature reconvenes.