West Virginia legislators will have a number of tobacco-related pieces of legislation this session, as bills have been introduced to both raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco and raise the tax on cigars and other tobacco products.

SB 248, introduced by Sen. Ron Stollings (D-07), seeks to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco, tobacco products, tobacco-derived products, alternative nicotine products and vapor products to 21-years-old. It keeps the existing fines for retailers who sell to minors in place, which start at $50 and escalate to $5,000, and preserves the fines for under-age persons who have tobacco products in their possession, which range from $50 to $200 and also includes several hours of community service. It has been referred to the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee.

Fresh off Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s budget that includes an increase in the tax on cigars from seven to 12 percent of the wholesale price amongst a number of other tobacco tax increases, five separate bills all seeking to hike the price on tobacco have been introduced to the legislature.

HB 2634, filed by Delegate Don Perdue (D-19) and co-sponsored by three other Democrats, seeks an increase in the “other tobacco products” (OTP) tax from seven to 50 percent, while increasing the tax on cigarettes from $0.55 per pack to $1.55. It’s a carryover from the 2015 session, with the monies raised split between the Bureau for Medical Services, the West Virginia University School of Public Health, oral health improvement programming, substance abuse prevention and treatment programming, in‑home elderly care services and early childhood development programming. The bill has been referred to the House Health and Human Resources Committee.

HB 4023, introduced by Delegate Larry L. Rowe (D-36) seeks an identical increase on the cigarette tax, but a somewhat more modest tax increase on cigars and other tobacco products, from seven to 39 percent. While the first seven percent of the tax would remain with the state, the money generated through the increase would go to the Public Employees Insurance Agency Special Fund to be used solely to reduce employee and retiree health insurance premiums. It too has been referred to the House Health and Human Resources Committee and seeks a Jan. 1, 2017 effective date.

HB 2953, introduced by Delegate Tom Fast (R-32), has been filed but the text has yet to be published. However its summary does list an increase on both the cigarette and OTP taxes.

The two senate bills, SB 125 and SB 139, both seek increases in the tax on cigarettes but don’t touch other tobacco products. The former seeks a gradual increase from $0.55 to $1.55, going to $1.05 on July 1, $1.30 on July 1, 2017 and $1.55 on July 1, 2018, while the latter wants the increase to happen all at once on July 1. Both have been referred to the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee.

The West Virginia Legislature opened its 2016 session on Jan. 13 and remains in session until March 12 at midnight.

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Patrick Lagreid

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and previously the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for Major League Baseball, plus I'm a voice over artist. Prior to joining halfwheel, I covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.