Increasing cigarette taxes by $1 per pack would significantly decrease the number of pregnant smokers, a recent report found.
A study published in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found a $1 increase on cigarette excise taxes increased the "quit rate" among smokers in the last three months of pregnancy.
Before the tax increase, only 44.1 percent of pregnant women who smoked quit in their last trimester. After the tax, 48.9 percent quit, the report found.
The study, which analyzed habits of expectant mothers in 29 states and New York City from 2000 to 2005, also found that increasing tobacco taxes seems to discourage women from returning to smoking for the first few months after giving birth.
West Virginia's excise tax on cigarettes is currently 55 cents per pack, lower than all surrounding states except Virginia, where the per-pack tax is just 30 cents.
Kentucky's per-pack tax is 60 cents, Ohio's is $1.25, Pennsylvania's is $1.60 and Maryland's is $2.
West Virginia's pregnant smoking rate also is higher than in surrounding states.
About 29 percent of West Virginia women smoke during the last three months of their pregnancies, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
In Ohio, 19 percent of mothers in their last trimester smoke; in Pennsylvania, 16 percent; and in Maryland, only 11 percent.
Kentucky and Virginia did not participate in the CDC's study. Nationally, only about 13 percent of pregnant women smoke in their last trimester.
Recent attempts to get state lawmakers to raise West Virginia's cigarette tax have not been successful. The state's per-pack tax hasn't changed since 2003, when the Legislature voted to raise it from 17 cents to the current rate.
Chuck Hamsher, advocacy director for the American Heart Association in West Virginia, has pushed for a tobacco tax increase for the last five legislative sessions.
In the regular session earlier this year, Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, introduced a bill to raise the state's cigarette tax by $1 per pack. The bill never made it past the Senate's Health and Human Resources Committee.
"Raising taxes is always an uphill struggle. It's always difficult and, frankly, there are some powerful interests that don't want to see the cigarette tax increased," he said.
Hamsher said his group plans to continue pushing for a tax increase in the 2013 session.
Come January, the Legislature will have to find a way to fund a $200 million Medicaid shortfall projected for the state budget year that starts next summer.
Hamsher said that might cause lawmakers to look more favorably on a cigarette tax increase. He estimates a $1 hike on cigarettes alone would generate about $115 million.
"If we bring up the other tobacco products to a comparable level, you're probably looking at another $8 to $10 million in that," he said.