LINCOLN — Smokers beware: A new poll says that most Nebraskans support higher tobacco taxes so that property taxes could be reduced.
The American Cancer Society on Friday released a survey indicating that 68 percent of likely voters in Nebraska favor raising taxes on tobacco. A portion of the new revenue would go to property tax relief and to programs to help smokers quit.
Only 29 percent of respondents strongly or somewhat opposed the idea.
In the Oct. 6-8 poll of 500 likely voters, 58 percent supported a $1-a-pack increase in taxes on cigarettes. That would raise the state tax to $1.64 a pack.
That's just above the average state tax of $1.53 per pack and higher than Iowa's tax of $1.36 a pack.
The focus on property tax relief is a change for anti-smoking forces.
A bill pending in the Legislature calls for using any new revenue from a tobacco tax increase for Medicaid providers and other health care costs, not for property tax relief.
But people have told a legislative committee looking at how to make state taxes more fair that they want property tax relief.
Dave Holmquist of the Nebraska branch of the American Cancer Society said it seems like a “viable option'' to use a portion of the estimated $72 million in new revenue from higher tobacco taxes for property tax relief.
“Our bottom line is to save lives,” Holmquist said. “What the Legislature does with the money is up to them.”
Officials said raising tobacco taxes is a proven way to prevent young people from taking up smoking and cutting the overall rate of tobacco use. They estimated that a $1-a-pack increase would reduce youth smoking by 15 percent.
That same argument was used last year, but it did not persuade a majority of the Revenue Committee to advance a cigarette tax increase for debate by the full Legislature. The last time the state raised tobacco taxes was in 2002.
The telephone and cellphone poll was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and had a margin of error of 4.38 percentage points.