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Cigarette Taxes Proposed for Health Plan

Congressional Democrats have selected an improbable font to disburse for the volume of their future $35 billion increase in children's health coverage: people with comparatively little money and education.

The program development approved by the House and Senate last week would be financed with a 156 percent augment in the federal cigarette tax, attractive it to $1 per pack from the existing 39 cents. Low-income people smoke more heavily than wealthier people in the United States do, making cigarette taxes a regressive form of revenue.

Democrats, who wrote the legislation and provided the majority of its votes, usually depict themselves as champions of the poor. They do not quarrel that the tax plan would hit poor communities excessively, but they say it is value it to give health insurance to millions of modest-income children.

All the better, they say, if higher cigarette taxes discourage smoking.

"I'm very happy that we're paying for this," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., noting that the chart would not put in to the deficit. "The health of the children is extremely important," he said. "In the long run, maybe it'll stop people from smoking."

Congress probably will revisit the cigarette tax issue soon because President Bush has pledged to veto the proposed $35 billion expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. The decade-old program helps families buy medical coverage if their income is too high to qualify for Medicaid.

Bush has proposed a more modest growth for the program, and both political parties seem inclined to pay for it through a tax on an unpopular group, cigarette smokers.

By most measures, the average smoker is less privileged than the average nonsmoker is. Nearly one-third of all U.S. adults living in poverty are smokers, compared with 23.5 percent of those above the poverty level, statistics show.



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