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cigarette tax hike a help OUR VIEWWe've heard the complaints that "sin" taxes are counterproductive, even self-defeating. We've also heard that to accept Medicaid expansion from the federal government would be something Tennesseans later would regret, when the cost shifted to the state. State Rep. Gary Odom's proposal in the General Assembly is to increase Tennessee's tax on cigarettes from the current 62 cents per pack to $1.06. The 44-cent difference would go into a trust fund that the state would begin to tap in 2017, after the federal government's contribution to Medicaid expansion drops from 100 percent to 90 percent. Expansion would bring health coverage to 175,000 Tennesseans who exist in the gap between those eligible for current Medicaid (TennCare) coverage, and those who can afford insurance through the federal marketplace, through their employer, or can afford to buy coverage on their own. But state leaders including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey say Tennessee should refuse Medicaid expansion because after the first three years, it becomes a (partially) unfunded mandate. Gov. Bill Haslam, whose decision ultimately may determine whether the state accepts the expansion, has yet to announce what he will do - nearly a year after he first said that he was considering it. He should give Rep. Odom's proposal serious consideration. Since the beginning of this year, Tennessee has been losing money by not accepting the expansion. Additionally, tax-preparation company Jackson Hewitt estimates that 24,000 Tennesseans who own small businesses will face a penalty in 2015, as much as $72 million total in higher taxes, assessed because of employees who would be eligible for Medicaid under the expansion. Opponents to expansion might have an argument if a state that refuses expansion would not still have to pay the federal taxes that fund Medicaid. However, it does not work that way. The people of Tennessee will continue to pay into Medicaid for the benefit of Medicaid recipients in the states that do accept expansion. Odom's tax increase would cover the 10 percent of state funding - inconveniencing smokers while helping others enjoy health and well-being for themselves and their families. Granted, some smokers would drive across state lines to buy cigarettes where the tax, and the per pack price, could be lower. It still would be worth it for the good that the expansion would do for so many. And the "unfunded mandate" will only become unfunded when Tennessee is no longer a state for smokers.