Georgia House seeks vaping tax, doesn’t move on tobacco tax

Lawmakers in Georgia’s House voted Thursday to regulate and tax vaping products, but aren’t taking the chance to raise taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The House voted 123-33 to pass Senate Bill 375, sending it back to the Senate for more debate.

The bill would regulate and tax vaping products in the same way that tobacco products are taxed and regulated. Rep. Bonnie Rich, a Suwanee Republican who was pushing for the move, says estimates show the state will collect $11 million to $19 million a year in taxes on vaping products.

House Republican leaders have declined to consider a push to increase taxes on tobacco products, despite a push by Democrats and anti-smoking advocates.

“By raising the cigarette tax, we could be talking about hundreds of millions of dollars,” House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, a Luthersville Democrat, said Thursday before voting against the bill.

A Senate committee has proposed raising Georgia’s tax on cigarettes from 37 cents a pack to $1.35 a pack in a separate measure. Georgia’s current tax is the third-lowest among states. The federal government charges an additional $1.01 in taxes on each pack of 20 cigarettes. The full Senate hasn’t considered that plan, with the General Assembly scheduled to end its yearly session on Friday.

The increase proposed by the Senate could raise $350 million a year or more when Georgia lawmakers are considering more than $2 billion in budget cuts. Anti-smoking advocates support it because higher taxes tend to drive down smoking. Also, less smoking-related disease would cut treatment costs now paid by the state-federal Medicaid health insurance program.

Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston, all Republicans, released statements supporting the plan.

“It is incumbent upon us as state leaders to protect job creators in the state and ensure that Georgia stands ready to respond to future public health crises with a supply of PPE that can be deployed at a moment’s notice,” Kemp said.

House Majority Leader Jon Burns, a Newington Republican, also proposed a plan that would grant tax credits to insurance companies that invested up to $100 million in Georgia businesses over two years, arguing it would help with economic recovery from COVID-19. Burns’ plan was approved Thursday afternoon by the House Rules Committee but was later sent back to the committee, raising questions about its chances of moving forward.