Increase in cigarette tax serves two purposes

The state is raising needed revenue and reducing smoking at the same time.

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The cigarette tax in Washington state just went up another buck. That pushes the state tax to over $3 a pack -- second highest in the nation -- which means pack-a-day smokers will now have to shell out nearly $3,000 a year or $8 a day to feed their habit.

The tobacco tax was raised in Washington in response to the budget crisis. Lawmakers looked at it as a way to increase revenue with few complaints -- it's why cigarette taxes are called sin taxes. An added benefit is that the higher cost of smokes will surely cause more and more folks to kick the habit.

Smoking is simply not as socially acceptable as it was even a decade ago.

Higher taxes, combined with vilifying smoking and smokers, has served to decrease smoking and change smoking patterns.

The number of people who smoke inside their own homes has decreased dramatically in the past decade.

Washington's Department of Health reported a 61 percent reduction in people smoking inside homes since 2000. People smoked in 19 percent of homes in 2000. That number decreased to 7.6 percent in 2008 -- and it likely has fallen lower since then.

The reduction in smoking inside of homes probably has more to do with awareness than taxes. People today understand the real dangers of second-hand smoke. More smokers have decided to go outside to smoke to spare their loved ones the cancer-causing elements in the smoke.

And since it is now illegal to smoke inside public buildings in Washington state -- including bars and restaurants -- most of us aren't forced to endure shirts stinking of smoke at work. This makes us all a bit more sensitive to the smell of smoke, which is probably another reason fewer folks are smoking at home. Non-smokers are telling smokers to either quit or get outside.

But while the rate of smoking at home is down, it hasn't been extinguished. An estimated 370,000 homes in the state still have smokers in them. That means a great many children are still being constantly exposed to second-hand smoke.

The state can -- and should -- do more to reduce smoking in homes. Getting more people to quit smoking altogether is the best approach.

The recent hike in the tobacco tax will likely help the cause. If the Legislature had to approve a tax, the 33 percent increase in the cigarette tax makes sense.

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