Cigarette smokers know very well the tax burden they shoulder.

In Pennsylvania, the rate is $1.60 per pack, well above the national rate of $1.45 per pack.

It could be worse.

In New York, the tax rate is $4.35 per pack. Rhode Island imposes a $3.46 per pack tax.

When it comes to tobacco, Pennsylvania does have one distinction. It's the only state in the nation that doesn't tax smokeless tobacco.

There have been efforts made over the years for such taxation, but they've always fallen short. With the state being in fiscal turmoil, now is the time to tax smokeless tobacco.

Smokeless tobacco has some of the same properties as cigarette tobacco: It's related to cancer, it's addicting, and it has other health detriments.

Smokeless tobacco, also called spit tobacco, chewing tobacco, chew, chaw, dip, plug, and probably a few other things, comes in two forms: snuff and chewing tobacco.

A third type is slowly gaining in popularity. "Smokeless cigarettes" are supposed to be the environmentally safe cigarettes for tobacco addicts.

Usually we're opposed to new taxes added on anything. But it doesn't seem fair that smokers of tobacco should be taxed heavily while other tobacco users are exempt.

This would be like putting a tax on a Ford but exempting a Honda. Whether it is in cigarettes or snuff, it is still tobacco.

In Pennsylvania, cigarette tax revenue is currently dedicated to the following funds and General Fund:

Ÿ $30.73 million annually to the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides health insurance to uninsured children and teens; and

Ÿ $20.49 million annually to the Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Fund, which helps preserve Pennsylvania farmland.

Hopefully, lawmakers will consider a tax on smokeless tobacco. Maybe then the tax on cigarettes could be reduced. Maybe all tobacco users could share the burden of financing CHIP and the Conservation Easement Purchase Fund.

And, maybe there could be a few extra bucks generated to keep full-day kindergarten or libraries intact.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com