In a victory for Virginia's tobacco lobby, the House Finance Committee has killed a proposal to let counties raise funds for education by increasing cigarette taxes.

Under the bill, localities could have raised the state's 2 1/2-cent cigarette tax to as much as 5 cents, with the increase returned to the jurisdiction to be used to fund schools.

However, the bill--sponsored by Del. Ford Quillen (D-Scott)--attacked one of the General Assembly's institutions, the tobacco industry. Tobacco is Virginia's largest cash crop, and the tobacco industry opposes any and all taxes on its products.

The state's current tax law is unfair, Quillen said, because cities now have the cigarette tax option but counties do not. Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, for example, each have a 15-cent local tax on a pack of cigarettes, he said.

Counties are put at a disadvantage now because each time they want the ability to tax cigarettes, they must approach the General Assembly, with its hordes of tobacco lobbyists, Quillen said.

"The counties have become the whipping boy," he said.

The tobacco industry opposes any tax on its product on grounds that the higher the price, the less it will sell.