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Voters reject Measure 4, an attempt to raise ND’s tobacco tax, in blowout

FARGO -- Voters on Tuesday, Nov. 8, rejected the first increase to North Dakota’s tobacco tax since 1993.

Measure 4 aimed to raise taxes from 44 cents to $2.20 per pack of cigarettes and boost the wholesale price tax on cigars and tobacco products from 28 to 56 percent.

However, with all 432 precincts reporting, nearly 62 percent voted against the measure, while 38 percent voted in favor.

The proposal was offered unsuccessfully to legislators in 2015. Proponents then united with veterans groups to ask for a tax increase to help fund veterans programs.

Opposition was strong from North Dakotans Against the 400% Tax Increase, a group that included the North Dakota Petroleum Marketers Association and the North Dakota Retail Association and tobacco companies Altria Group and R.J. Reynolds.

Chairman Mike Rud said the coalition was “very happy” with the measure’s defeat, a stark contrast to the state’s other four measures and amendments all heading toward passage.

Eric Johnson, a spokesperson for Raise It for Health ND, said the group was “disappointed” by the outcome. Proponents had hoped the measure could reduce the youth smoking rate, something he said happened in other states that raised taxes.

Rud said one message that resonated with voters was uncertainty over how the revenue would be used. The Legislative Council projected it would raise an additional $141.7 million in the 2017-2019 biennium.

“I think the real message was North Dakotans like to know where their money’s going to be spent,” he said.

But Johnson denied that claim, and said the measure would’ve only allowed spending based on carefully deliberated strategic plans.

“It’s disappointing that the tobacco companies were able to outspend us 100 to 1 to promote that negative and false message,” he said.

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson is the Features Editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He previously wrote for The Forum and the Grand Forks Herald.

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