Senate Dems introduce tobacco tax measure

A group of Senate Democrats wants the government to increase its oversight of the sale and trade of tobacco.

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Legislation introduced on Friday goes further than President Obama's proposal to raise the federal cigarette tax and use the profits to fund expanded preschool education.

The bill, called the Tobacco Tax and Enforcement Reform Act, would tax all tobacco products at the same rate and hike taxes by 93 percent. The bill also aims to crack down on tobacco trafficking by requiring unique markings for shipments, demanding that export warehouses file reports with the Treasury Department and banning the sale or lease of tobacco product manufacturing equipment to people without licenses.

“This legislation not only raises revenue for critical children’s health programs, it will also lower youth smoking, because we know that youth tobacco consumption falls when tobacco taxes rise," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), one of four Democrats who introduced the legislation, in a statement.

“Under current law, loopholes in the taxes on tobacco products and insufficient regulations regarding tobacco trafficking mean that cheaper sources of tobacco remain too easily accessible to children and teens," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a statement. "Curbing tobacco use by our kids is an achievable goal and with these reforms, we can help spare future generations of young people from this deadly epidemic."

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network also backed new cigarette taxes on Friday. The anti-cancer group said new surcharges would reduce healthcare costs "and save lives at the same time."

In coming weeks, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to announce a proposal to expand its oversight to cigars, pipe tobacco and electronic cigarettes, which are not currently regulated by the agency.

Those upcoming rules have sent lobbyists scrambling to establish protections for the industry. Bipartisan bills in both the House and Senate have been introduced to exempt "traditional and premium cigars" from regulator oversight.