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Voters disapprove of tobacco efforts

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Voters disapprove of tobacco efforts
Voters disapprove of tobacco efforts

Poll shows support for raising taxes on products

HELENA - Most Montana voters disapprove of how Gov. Judy Martz and the 2001 Legislature whittled away the state's tobacco-use prevention program, and a majority would favor a ballot measure to triple the state taxes on tobacco products.

That's according to a new poll taken for the Lee Montana Newspapers, which asked voters a broad variety of questions about state politics and policies. The telephone survey of 625 registered voters was taken last week and contains a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Agreeing with the recommendation of Republican Gov. Judy Martz, the 2001 Legislature eliminated all but $1 million in state funding for the Tobacco Use Prevention Program. Under former Gov. Marc Racicot, the program was budgeted for $7 million in state money over two years. The program included a mass media campaign and community outreach programs, among other components, meant to curb tobacco use in Montana.

Only 14 percent approved of what Martz and the Legislature did with the tobacco-prevention project, compared with 79 percent who disapproved. Seven percent were undecided.

Women were just slightly more supportive of the prevention program than men. While 83 percent of women disapproved of the Legislature's action, so did 75 percent of men. Twelve percent of women and 16 percent of men approved of the move, while 5 percent of women and 9 percent of men were undecided.

Martz also opposed proposals to increase state taxes on tobacco and the 2001 Legislature rejected several measure that would have doubled or tripled Montana's current 18-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes. Yet a majority of voters would favor tripling that tax if such a proposal were brought to the ballot, the poll shows.

Public health advocates pushed the Legislature for a tobacco-tax increase, saying other states have proven that raising prices forces many people to quit smoking and using other forms of tobacco. While Martz did agree to sign a bill that would offer the question to voters in the form of a ballot issue, the Legislature killed that measure when faced with the $1.5 million price tag for a special election.

Fifty-seven percent said they would support a ballot measure increase the per-pack tax on cigarettes to 56 cents, while 35 percent said they would oppose the tax increase. Eight percent were undecided.

Women were more likely than men to favor increasing tobacco taxes. While 60 percent of women would favor a tobacco tax increase on the ballot, 54 percent of men would do the same. Thirty three percent of women and 37 percent of men would oppose such an initiative, while 9 percent of men and 7 percent of women were undecided.

Anti-tobacco groups are mulling over the prospects of using the initiative process to ask voters to increase state tobacco taxes.

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