The idea of touting a 500 percent tax increase is anathema to most politicians.
But the proposal to boost the "sin tax" on cigarettes from 5 cents to 30 cents a pack in Fairfax County has commanded proud bipartisan support. And a similar measure was recently passed by the Arlington County Board with barely a peep of opposition.
"Hopefully, as a result, young people won't start smoking, and marginal smokers will quit," said Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully). "I'm in favor of most sin taxes, actually."
But that doesn't mean that no one objects.
Out on the smoking patios of office buildings and in the smoking sections of restaurants and bars, a certain segment of the public is feeling particularly maligned and harassed.
Combined with the county tax and the recent state tax increase, many smokers in Arlington and Fairfax could expect to pay an extra 521/2 cents a pack by next summer.
"It's a pretty lousy idea," Kathy Russell, a clerk at the Fairfax courthouse, said last week during a break outside. "They're so expensive already, and it's really difficult to quit."
She smokes about a pack of Benson & Hedges Menthol Lights a day, paying $3.68 a pack and up.
"It's mostly lesser-income people who smoke, and they're going to keep on smoking," she said.
Helen Sokos, 24, an administrative assistant in Fairfax who picks up her daily pack of Marlboro Lights for $3.47, said of the tax increase, "That's it -- I'm quitting. Otherwise I'll go broke buying cigarettes."
After a moment's thought, though, she reconsidered.
"But maybe I'll just buy my cigarettes in another county."
Russell similarly proposed a way around the tax.
"People can go on the Internet and buy them at discount places," she said.
If smokers do head elsewhere, that would be bad news for Fairfax County leaders, who see the cigarette tax revenue primarily as a means of easing the tax burden on homeowners.
Real estate tax bills have soared in both counties in recent years, creating political pressure from homeowners for relief.
Of Virginia's 95 counties, only Fairfax and Arlington are allowed by the state to levy their own cigarette taxes. The state's cigarette tax is rising from 21/2 cents a pack to 30 cents by next year. Fairfax and Arlington are allowed to match the state's increase but may not exceed it.
The proposed Fairfax County tax would rise to 20 cents Sept. 1 and to 30 cents July 1.
The current nickel-a-pack cigarette tax in Fairfax County generates about $1.9 million. It is expected to generate about $11.5 million annually when the new tax is fully implemented.
"Anything that helps us diversify our reliance on property taxes is welcome," said Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee).
Kauffman said he wants the money to go toward tax relief for homeowners.
Frey said he hopes that the extra tax revenue will allow the county to reduce the fee that athletic groups pay to use county facilities.
"To my knowledge, no one is against a cigarette tax," Kauffman said. "Frankly, no one on the board smokes."