Time has come to raise Missouri's cigarette tax
The Kansas City Star
It’s not often a single vote can make a state smarter, healthier and more prosperous.
But Missourians have the chance to achieve all of those things on Nov. 6 by voting Yes on Proposition B. The ballot measure increases the tax on tobacco products by a rate that would add 73 cents to the cost of a pack of cigarettes.
Here are a few of the many reasons Missouri voters should get this done:
It’s a chance to climb out of the cellar without firing a general manager or breaking in a new quarterback.
At 17 cents a pack, Missouri’s cigarette tax is dead last among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. That’s embarrassing. And foolish. A state that can’t afford to adequately fund schools and services is subsidizing an expensive habit with the nation’s lowest tobacco tax.
It would add years to lives.
Missouri has the nation’s 39th lowest life expectancy. It is one of just seven states where the life expectancy for women in a significant number of counties is actually decreasing.
Not coincidentally, Missouri has the nation’s 11th highest smoking rate, at 21 percent of adults and 19.5 percent of high school students. Its citizens are diagnosed with cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease at higher rates than national norms.
By motivating people, especially teenagers, to smoke less or not at all, the increased cigarette tax is projected to stop 22,000 Missourians from dying prematurely over five years.
It would lighten a financial burden on everyone.
Missouri’s ridiculously low cigarette tax costs the state’s Medicaid program $532 million a year — an expense that must be recouped through state and federal taxes. The overall health costs caused by smoking are estimated at $2.13 billion a year, which all consumers pay for in higher insurance rates and hospital costs.
It would help schools.
Proposition B wisely creates a Health and Education Trust Fund to safeguard the money the state would receive from the higher cigarette tax — about $283 million a year.
By statute, half of the new revenue would be used to fund public elementary and secondary schools. Thirty percent would be spent to help the state’s colleges and universities expand health care-related curriculums such as nursing.
The remaining 20 percent would fund programs to keep people from smoking, or help smokers to quit. Missouri is one of the few states that currently invests no funding toward reducing tobacco use.
Importantly, the ballot measure specifies that money from a higher cigarette tax must be treated as new funding and not simply as a replacement for money the state currently spends on schools and universities. An annual audit is required to make sure that is happening.
Plenty of other benefits would be gained by passage of Proposition B. Among other things, the state would steer clear of legal jeopardy because the ballot measure smartly closes a loophole in state law that gives a big financial advantage to small tobacco companies that sell off-brand cigarettes in the state.
Opponents of the proposal, led by the small cigarette makers and convenience store owners, protest weakly that a higher tobacco tax would damage the state’s economy by reducing demand and discouraging consumers in neighboring states from purchasing cigarettes in Missouri.
It’s insulting to suggest that Missouri’s economic well-being depends on the sale of cheap cigarettes. Healthy, productive workers and good schools and universities are much better drivers of economic competitiveness.
State lawmakers and Gov. Jay Nixon have shamefully ducked their responsibility to lower Medicaid costs, help schools and make the state healthier by calling for a higher tobacco tax. A broad coalition of health and education advocates did the hard work of getting Proposition B on the ballot. Voters will do good on a multitude of fronts by approving it.