AUGUSTA (AP) – Maine public health officials like Gov. John Baldacci’s proposal for what would be the nation’s highest cigarette tax.

Predictably, smokers are far less enthusiastic.

Hallowell smoke shop owner Tom Allen said he’d prefer an increase in a broad-based tax – not one that singles out roughly 20 percent of the population.

“You are picking on the low-income, fixed-income people,” he said.

Baldacci wants to boost the cigarette tax by a dollar per pack. Lawmakers most recently increased the tax to $2 a pack in September 2005. If the new increase is approved, the tax would grow to $3 effective on July 1.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, fully supports Baldacci’s proposal.

“The tobacco tax increase is one of the most effective public health strategies a state can implement,” she said.

Public health officials like Mills say raising the tax gives people incentive to quit.

“I think the governor is on the cutting edge here,” said Carol Kelly, director of the Maine Coalition on Smoking and Health.

Kelly said her group’s Washington, D.C., office estimates that an additional $1 per pack will keep 10,000 children from smoking.

“Kids are much more price-sensitive than adults,” she said.

It’s estimated that $65 million per year will be generated by the tax, which will go into the state’s General Fund.

By taking money from a different account, Baldacci also plans to increase spending on smoking-cessation programs. “There’s no question a tax increase of this size will once again produce unprecedented demand by people to quit,” Miller said.

As for smokers, they’re crying foul, saying they’re once again being singled out by a government that can’t control spending.

“I think it’s horrible,” said Kate Farrington of Augusta. “There’s enough things they can tax other than cigarettes.”