The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly rejected a proposal Monday to work with the City of Ketchikan on a possible boroughwide tobacco tax.
During public comment, Terrance Robbins of the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition spoke in favor of a tobacco excise tax. He said that making tobacco more expensive helps deter people from smoking.
“Statistics from the state are: a 10 percent, which is about a dollar per pack, increase in the price of cigarettes, reduced adult smoking by 4 percent, reduces the number of youth who smoke by 7 percent,” he said. “It also reduces the number of pregnant women who smoke by 7 percent. And that’s just a 1 percent tax.”
Assembly Member Glenn Thompson was strongly opposed to a “sin tax,” stating that if the community feels tobacco is so harmful, it should simply ban it rather than use it as a source of revenue.
Thompson suggested that other things could be taxed, as well.
“You might want to take a look at a sin tax on alcohol, you might want to take a look at what we’re going to do with marijuana and anything else that people don’t like,” he said. “I personally don’t much care for bubble baths, so maybe we should have an excise tax on that.”
Assembly Member Bill Rotecki objected to the bubble bath comparison. He said tobacco use costs society a lot of money.
“If I have a bubble bath, I don’t think it affects anybody else’s taxes, or their life or their health,” he said. “Cigarettes cost us, everyone in this room, a lot of money. We support the health care of those people who choose, or don’t choose – they just can’t break, even though they may want to. That comes out of our budget, indirectly in this community but certainly directly through other governments. And it’s huge.”
Assembly Member John Harrington argued that the proposal was too broad. The goal is to keep kids from taking up smoking, he said, but the language calls for a tax on all tobacco products and e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine but no tobacco.
A motion to remove e-cigarettes from the proposal passed. A second motion to also remove smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco, failed.
Harrington suggested postponing a vote on the main motion until a full Assembly could participate. However, the motion to postpone failed.
The main motion would have directed the borough manager to meet with City of Ketchikan administration to come up with a proposal that first would go to the borough-city Cooperative Relations Committee, then would go before the Borough Assembly and City Council, and finally would go in front of the voters in an election.
The vote on the motion was 3-2 in favor of moving forward, but four votes are needed for a motion to pass. Thompson and Harrington voted no.
Two Assembly members were absent Monday: Mike Painter and Jim Van Horne.
Assembly Member Rotecki indicated that another proposal related to a tobacco tax could come before the Assembly again in the near future.
In other action, the Assembly voted 4-1 to introduce an ordinance that would ban pallet burning at Rotary Beach, also called Bugge’s Beach. Two people spoke during public comment, both in favor of the ordinance. They were concerned about the vast number of nails left on the beach after pallets have been burned.
Also Monday, the Assembly postponed action on a proposed change to the fees collected by the North Tongass Service Area; rejected a resolution in support of the governor’s plan to expand Medicaid in Alaska; and supported a suggestion that the borough prohibit the use of public funds for certain expenses, such as alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.