SANTA FE — Democrats on the Legislature's tobacco committee said Wednesday that they will try to raise taxes on cigars and smokeless tobacco, and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez made it clear that she will oppose them.

"The governor does not support raising taxes," said her press secretary, Scott Darnell.

State Rep. Danice Picraux, D-Albuquerque, said she would introduce a bill to raise taxes on smokeless tobacco products.

She and other Democrats said they hoped to persuade Martinez that this tax would keep people healthier and reduce public expenses for medical care.

If taxes on chewing tobacco, cigars and loose tobacco used for roll-your-own cigarettes increased, fewer people would buy them, Picraux said. In turn, this would mean fewer cases of cancer, heart disease and other sicknesses caused by tobacco use, she said.

Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said higher taxes on smokeless tobacco essentially would close "a loophole" in New Mexico.

Legislators in the last decade have twice raised taxes on package cigarettes. Taxes rose from 20 cents a pack to $1.66 a pack.

But there have been no tax increases on smokeless tobacco.

Chasey said Martinez might be amenable to raising taxes as a means of equalizing treatment between cigarette companies and those that sell other tobacco products.

The tax rate on smokeless tobacco products is 25 percent of their wholesale cost, said Sandra Adondakis, of the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network. Her organization wants to raise the tax to 57 percent.

The increase would generate another $7 million annually for the state, Adondakis said.

But Adondakis, like Picraux, said the primary advantage of a higher tax is that it would decrease demand for smokeless tobacco.

After two tax increases on package cigarettes — one of 71 cents a pack and another of 75 cents — cigarette use by adults declined.

Adondakis said 24 percent of adults in New Mexico smoked cigarettes before the tax increases.

By 2009, adult smokers were down to 17.9 percent, she said.

Milan Simonich: msimonich@tnmnp.com