A tax hike we like

Published 5:25 pm Tuesday, March 30, 2021

You’ll rarely see an enthusiastic endorsement of a tax increase in this space, but Isle of Wight County supervisors are wise to consider the merits of a sales tax on cigarettes.

After a 4-1 vote this month, the county will soon hold a public hearing on a draft ordinance for the tax.

So-called “sin taxes” are perhaps the fairest form of taxation. Only the consumer of the product pays, and the tax, at least theoretically, discourages unhealthful behavior.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Changes to state law in 2020 now allow counties to impose taxes of up to 40 cents per pack. Isle of Wight hasn’t proposed a rate yet, but it definitely would be lower than cigarette tax rates in Smithfield, Suffolk and Franklin, which all collect more than 40 cents per pack. Windsor assesses a 30-cent tax.

Should the board choose to enact the tax, wholesalers would be required to purchase stamps from the county and affix them to each pack, the cost of which would be passed on to retailers and, ultimately, the consumers who buy them.

Isle of Wight Commissioner of the Revenue Gerald Gwaltney said it would likely be September before smokers would see the resulting per-pack price increases from the tax.

According to Gwaltney, 40 cents per pack on an estimated 750,000 packs per year would bring the county roughly $300,000 in additional revenue.

In advance of the public hearing, whose date had not been set as of Monday, supervisors should get more specific about how the money would be used. Possibilities mentioned at a meeting this month included helping fund debt payments for new elementary schools and underwriting annual contributions to Isle of Wight Christian Outreach and the Western Tidewater Health District.

The revenue is compelling in an era when election officials must be careful about adding to the tax burden of property owners. We applaud supervisors for putting the question to a public hearing.