But legislators weren't lit up by their request that lawmakers increase the per-pack cigarette tax from 5 cents to 75 cents.
Rep. Ronnie Sutton of Pembroke said the proposed tax, which was expected to generate about $380 million annually, will not be considered this year.
"Did you hear that 'thud?'" Sutton said. "That was the cigarette tax gasping for breath and dying."
Sutton said the cigarette tax would have a better chance next session, not during the short May-July session.
"We've been told that there will not be a vote on the cigarette tax this year," Sutton said. "In my opinion, they are just asking for too much. It would be one thing if it was 20 cents, but the jump to 75 cents is just too much of a hole to leap."
Sutton said passing any tax increase will be difficult, but especially in an election year. North Carolina, the nation's No. 1 tobacco-producing state, currently has the country's second-lowest cigarette tax, behind only Kentucky's 3 cents per pack. The nationwide average tax on cigarettes is about 73 cents a pack.
"There are so many Republicans and Democrats that have signed a pledge that they will not vote for a tax increase," Sutton said. "I didn't sign one, but I don't like to raise taxes, either."
Sutton and other lawmakers met with several dozen students from across the state - along with educators, church leaders and seniors - to hear the request to increase the cigarette tax. The lobbying effort was organized by N.C. Alliance for Health. Representatives of the group have argued that the tax increase will bring in revenue and discourage people, children in particular, from taking up smoking. Estimates are that tobacco use costs the state $4.7 billion in medical bills and lost productivity each year.
Abomy Galbreath, an 11th-grader at Red Springs High School, said lawmakers should support the increase for the sake of future generations. Galbreath and the other students wore purple T-shirts that read "75 saves lives" during their visit to Raleigh.
"Go ahead and get it out of the way now so it'll prevent future problems that we'll have to deal with when we get into legislative positions or governmental positions," Galbreath said.
Sutton said he agrees that a cigarette tax would be beneficial, but he said a 30-cent tax would be more realistic.
"I commend the kids that came up here," he said. "They were very intelligent and committed, but they want too much. I don't have any problem with a reasonable tax, but 75 cents is not reasonable."
In North Carolina, more than 24,000 youths take up smoking each year. That translates into 27.8 percent of the state's youths who smoke, compared with the national average of 22.9 percent, according to a 2002 survey from the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.