Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, said Thursday he plans to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would raise Virginia's cigarette tax to the national average.
Hope attempted to do the same earlier this year, but his bill died in committee. The Arlington delegate would like to see Virginia's per-pack tax -- currently at 30 cents, second only to Missouri as the lowest in the nation -- increased to the national average of $1.45.
Hope talked about the importance of the increase Thursday at Bon Air Park, where he and other Arlington officials .
"This is of tremendous importance to me, not because I'm on a crusade against smoking, but because it's a public health issue," Hope said.
The delegate said there's a national trend toward promoting smoking cessation, from insurance companies offering incentives to smokers to help them quit to businesses not hiring employees who smoke.
Citing statistics compiled by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Hope said a $1.15 per pack tax hike on cigarettes would prevent nearly 74,000 children from becoming smokers and cause an estimated 45,500 of adult smokers to quit.
"Only 19 percent of (adult) Virginians smoke," Hope said. "Most people wouldn't feel the heat -- feel the tax, in other words."
The increase, including anticipated federal matching Medicaid funds, could generate up to $1.1 billion in revenue, Hope said.
The projected long-term health savings in this state from adult and youth smoking reduction is $1.7 billion, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids data.
The money could be used to help Virginia cover escalating Medicaid costs or satisfy Justice Department requirements to move mentally disabled patients out of institutions and into community settings, Hope said.