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Missouri smokers might be hacking up a lung over a ballot initiative that proposes a hefty hike to cigarettes.
Missouri currently holds the title the lowest state cigarette tax at 17 cents. The proposed tax would raise that tax by 73 cents; the revenue accrued from the tax would go toward the education deficit and health programs for smoking cessation.
Missouri voters would ultimately decide whether they want a tax raise on cigarettes when they go to the polls in November. Petitioners have been in full force up and down North Street and around other parts of town to gather enough signatures.
But will Show-Me voters let Missouri’s lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax go up in smoke?
The likelihood of the ballot passing is uncertain. Similar initiatives have made it to ballot boxes in previous elections without success. In 2002, a 55-cent increase to each pack of cigarettes lost by a margin of 30,000. Another attempt to raise the tax — this time by 88 cents — surfaced in the 2006, but again was defeated by an even larger margin of 61,000 votes.
The debate has been contentious, with some politicians abstaining. Missouri’s own chief executive has kept his distance. A Kansas City Public Media report notes that Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon “does not intend to get involved in any significant way,” perhaps fearing he might lose some cigarette-smoking voters when he’s up for re-election in November.
But another high-ranking government official, Attorney General Chris Koster, a fellow Democratic, has taken a strong and vocal stance in supporting a tax increase. In an op ed in the Kansas City Star, Koster makes an argument that a higher tax on cigarettes could kill two birds, budget deficits and poor health, with one stone. Medicare, according to the attorney general’s reasoning, drains the budget. He said:
Missouri spends more money under Medicaid to provide health care for smoking-related illnesses than we collect from the entire cigarette tax. In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that tobacco-related illnesses cost our state’s Medicaid program $532 million, and these costs have only skyrocketed with inflation.
Yet Missouri collected just $90 million last year in cigarette taxes.
Viewed through this lens, the General Assembly is subsidizing sick smokers more than $400 million annually. Under current tax law, Missouri has become an enterprise zone for cigarettes. I’m a strong supporter of enterprise zones, but not for cigarettes.
Legislators have also introduced various pieces of legislation in the past to levy higher taxes on tobacco products. In this session alone, three Democratic representatives in the Missouri House, Reps. Jeanette Mott Oxford, Rory Ellinger and Columbia’s own Mary Still have pressured fellow lawmakers into considering change. In a KBIA piece on the three representatives’ legislation, Still said that today’s tax, adjusted for inflation, is lower than the tax in 1961; she also wants to see a bulk of the revenues go directly to public education.
For a better perspective on how Missouri’s current cigarette tax ranks among the states, take a look at data from a Jan. 1, 2012 report from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids:
Lowest state cigarette taxes
- Missouri – $0.17
- Virginia – $0.30
- Louisiana – $0.36
- Georgia – $0.37
- Alabama – $0.425
- North Dakota – $0.44
- North Carolina – $0.45
- West Virginia – $0.55
- South Carolina – $0.57
- Idaho – $0.57
Highest state cigarette taxes
- New York – $4.35
- Rhode Island – $3.46
- Connecticut – $3.40
- Hawaii – $3.20
- Washington – $3.025
- New Jersey – $2.70
- Vermont – $2.62
- Wisconsin – $2.52
- Massachusetts – $2.51
- Washington, D.C. – $2.50
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