January 15, 2020 - Atlanta - Rep. Bonnie Rich, R - Suwanee, speaks during morning orders as the Georgia 2020 General Assembly continued for it's third legislative day. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
Photo: bandres@ajc.com/Bob Andres
Photo: bandres@ajc.com/Bob Andres

Georgia House panel takes another stab at new tax on vaping products

A key House panel on Wednesday approved a 7% excise tax on vaping devices and products but didn’t take up an increase in cigarette taxes.

House Ways & Means Chairman Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, indicated that adding a cigarette tax hike to the vaping bill - Senate Bill 375 - would doom its chances.

The Senate Finance Committee last week approved raising the cigarette tax rate from 37 cents per pack to $1.35.

However, House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, has repeatedly said he opposes raising the tax this session.

State lawmakers are expected to conclude the 2020 session - which was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic - on Friday.

State senators from both parties and some advocates have pushed for a tobacco tax increase to help raise money to mitigate some of the spending cuts lawmakers are having to make because of the recession brought on by the pandemic.

They and health officials also argue that the state’s current cigarette tax rate - among the lowest in the nation - only brings in about one-third of what taxpayers spend treating Georgians on public health programs for tobacco-related illness each year.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, to regulate the vaping industry, tax products and charge a fee for vaping product sellers, stalled earlier in the 2020 session.

But Harrell’s committee tacked her measure - House Bill 864 - onto another Senate bill Wednesday that makes it illegal to sell cigarettes, vaping or other similar products to anyone under 21.

State officials said earlier this year that the tax and licensing fees would raise between $9.6 million and $14.5 million in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins next Wednesday.

The cigarette tax increase approved by the Senate committee would raise more than $400 million a year.

Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday reduced his estimate of how much overall tax money the state will take in during fiscal 2021 - mostly from income and sales taxes - by $2.2 billion. That will necessitate massive spending cuts.

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