Revenue Up In Smoke

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It was encouraging to see Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the General Assembly clear the air between them and compromise on a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars.

What for so long was denounced as a challenge to personal choice and a detriment to businesses was finally seen for what it really is — a public health issue. Choosing to smoke is a personal choice, but doing it in a confined space can infringe on others' rights to be healthy and smoke-free.

It was less encouraging to see a proposed 100 percent hike in the cigarette tax go up in smoke last week, as Virginia lawmakers voted down a bill that would have used the increased revenue to offset the planned cuts to the state's Medicaid program in en effort to make up a projected $2.9 billion shortfall in the budget.

What's worse is that a recent poll showed that 72 percent of Virginians responding favored up to a quadruple increase in the cigarette tax. It begs the question of whether lawmakers are really listening to voters or to the Virginia-based tobacco companies, like Phillip Morris, that have lobbied so hard against a tax increase.

The state absorbs $400 million in Medicaid costs for tobacco-related illnesses, Gov. Tim Kaine has said. The ban is a nice gesture, but the tax hike would have been more beneficial to Virginia.