Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney recently proposed a 50-cent cigarette-tax increase as part of his 2020 budget, a move that experts say would hit the city’s low-income residents hardest.
“The key point here is that cigarette taxes are often viewed as regressive for a number of reasons,” said Hayes Holderness, tax policy expert and assistant professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. “Smokers tend to disproportionately be individuals of lower-income groups and so the impact of any cigarette tax is going to fall on them more than wealthy individuals.”
Recent Virginia smoking polls have backed up the ties between education level, annual income and smoking.
"There appears to be an inverse relationship between those who smoke in Virginia and level of education attained," according to an August 2018 survey. "Survey participants with higher levels of education were less likely to be smokers.”
The survey also found that smoking generally decreases as annual income increases and that in Virginia, the greatest percentage of smokers earn the least amount of money. According to statistics, those who earn under $20,000 a year smoke at a rate of 32.2 percent, exceeding all other tax brackets.
“We often talk about regression in terms of income, and if that’s the case then certainly we can expect the cigarette taxes to be regressive,” Holderness said.
Survey respondents who described race or ethnicity as Other or Black smoked at the highest rates of 18.0 percent and 17.1 percent, respectively. Overall, 13.9 percent of Virginia citizens consider themselves current, everyday or someday smokers, while 25.9 percent consider themselves former smokers.
Richmond City Council will need to approve the cigarette tax. They failed to pass a similar tax a year ago when an 80-cent increase was proposed, losing in a 6-3 vote.