Cigarette tax hike could fund Arkansas trauma system

LITTLE ROCK, AR - A state lawmaker says legislators will likely consider raising Arkansas' cigarette tax by around 50 cents a pack to fund a proposed statewide trauama system.

Rep. Gene Shelby, who proposed a failed cigarette tax increase during the 2007 legislative session, says he has spoken with the governor's office and other lawmakers about bringing up the issue next year.  Paul Halverson, director of the Arkansas Dept. of Health, also says he has proposed raising the tax to Governor Beebe as a means to further cut the state's smoking rates.

In 2007, Shelby's previous proposal never made it out of a skeptical House committee, which said the tax would hurt the poor.

Lawmakers failed to find a funding source for the trauma system during the last session.  Arkansas remains one of only a handful of states without a trauma system, a unified network of hospitals that can route victims of car crashes, electrocutions and other serious injuries quickly to specialists.

Halverson and others at the state Health Dept. say raising the tax on cigarettes would have another impact...further cutting the number of people lighting up.   The department released the results of three different studies today, showing that the state had 84,000 fewer smokers in 2007 than five years earlier.

Since 2002, the percentage of adults who smoked dropped from 26.3 percent to 22.4 percent.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)