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Hansen introduces measure for $1.50-a-pack cigarette tax

Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, rarely agrees with President Clinton. But he introduced a bill Wednesday for a $1.50 per-pack cigarette tax that Clinton called for last month.

And the bill by Hansen - a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which preaches against tobacco use - would also create automatic annual increases in the tax to ensure that it keeps up with inflation.And for those who ignore the hit on their pocketbook and still smoke, Hansen wants the money raised by the new tax to be used for anti-tobacco education and ad campaigns - and on health insurance for low-income people.

Hansen introduced the Public Health and Education Resource (PHAER, pronounced `fair') Act Wednesday calling for those measures in the House. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., introduced an identical bill in the Senate.

"This bill draws a line in the sand. Will you stand with America's youth, or will you stand - and eventually fall - with the tobacco industry?" Hansen said.

Clinton called last month for the $1.50 per-pack tax to discourage cigarette smoking, especially among youths - and called for giving the Food and Drug Administration jurisdiction to control cigarettes (which Hansen's bill also assists).

That was seen as a rejection of a proposed $368 billion settlement between tobacco companies and states attorney generals, which called for payments and improved warnings on tobacco products to settle numerous lawsuits against them.

Hansen said, "This bill sets a clear mark for Congress to honor: a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax, with the revenues benefiting children and young people. It is not complicated, diluted or ambiguous."

A fact sheet he distributed said the bill would raise the price of cigarettes to a level estimated to cut youth smoking in half by making it difficult for them to afford it.

It would impose a 50 cents a pack increase annually for three years and then impose a 3 percent or greater annual increase annually thereafter depending on inflation as measured by several indexes.

It said the tax is expected to raise $494 billion over 25 years - or almost $20 billion a year.

The bill calls for 75 percent of revenues to be given to states for such things as smoking cessation programs, anti-tobacco programs in schools, ad campaigns against tobacco and expansion of a program to provide health insurance to low-income children.

Of course, Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., similarly persuaded Congress this year to expand health insurance for poor children through cigarette taxes.

That was denounced by several conservative groups as adding to big government and caused Hatch problems with his own Utah Republican Party - which passed a resolution against it.

Hansen's bill also calls for 25 percent of tobacco-tax revenue to be distributed on the federal level to fund tobacco research and prevention programs, FDA jurisdiction over tobacco, programs to assist tobacco farmers converting to other products and for cost-sharing assistance for low-income Medicare beneficiaries.

Hansen has long been a leading House opponent of tobacco, and has in the past pushed several bills against it - including several to require more strict warning labels.