GUEST COMMENTARY: Missouri needs to increase cigarette tax

Saturday, November 13, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 9:03 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In many categories, Missouri has the lowest taxes in the country. The Morgan Quitno "State Rankings 2010" book lists Missouri as:

  • 47th-lowest in per capita taxes.
  • 46th-lowest in corporate income tax.
  • 40th-lowest in general revenue sales tax.

Now Missouri has another record low. As of July 1, when South Carolina raised its cigarette tax to 55 cents a pack, Missouri had the lowest cigarette tax in the nation. Missouri’s 17-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes is now well below all the tobacco-producing states and all surrounding states. In fact, we could raise our tax by 12 cents a package and still be the lowest, with Virginia still above us at 30 cents. In other words, we could double our cigarette tax and be the second-lowest. Right now, when adjusted for inflation, Missouri’s cigarette tax is actually lower today than it was in 1961. 

If this is a race to the bottom, we win. 

But, what is the prize?

  • More smokers — already we rank fourth in the country in the percentage of adults who smoke.
  • More citizens suffering from lung cancer — we rank fifth in the number of new lung cancer cases and we have the seventh-highest lung cancer death rate.
  • More pregnant women smoking — 31 percent of Missouri pregnant women on Medicaid smoke. This results in lower-birth weight babies, at significant costs and with terrible illnesses.

But, forget for a moment the tragedy of these deaths and illnesses. And forget that our state is in the deepest budget hole since the Great Depression, which requires all of us to tighten our belts.

Let's look at this simply from a position of fairness. Citizens who smoke are costing our state a bundle. Missouri now pays $738 per pregnant woman to treat tobacco-related problems. The Missouri Budget Project estimates that smoking-related illness costs the state’s Medicaid system $641 million in 2009 of combined federal and state funds, of which $256 million was state general revenue.

It is time to ask citizens who smoke to do their parts in helping us cover their expenses.

A 12-cent increase in the cigarette tax — that’s less than a penny a cigarette — would raise about $68 million. Our constitution restricts the amount of new taxes the legislature can impose any given year without a vote of the people. Since a 12-cent increase produces a revenue increase well below the ceiling mandated by the constitution, this amount could be imposed directly by the legislature.  

An alternative would be to send this issue directly to the voters. Let the voters decide if they would support a greater increase. A $1-a-pack increase would net a $570 million revenue gain, and keep Missouri well below the national cigarette tax average and in line with our border states.

Either proposal moves Missouri ahead — both on health and well-being of our citizens. 

Either proposal improves our ability as a state to balance our budget and increases revenues to protect our investments, improve our economy and maintain our crumbling infrastructure.

Either proposal serves as a user tax, allowing citizens who smoke to contribute their fair share of the costs placed upon our state.

The race to the bottom is one we can’t afford to win. I will work this session with like-minded legislators to address this issue of fairness and personal responsibility.

Statistics were provided by Missouri Budget Project and Center for Disease Control. Mary Wynne Still is the state representative for the 25th District.

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john erkle November 13, 2010 | 5:43 a.m.

How do you figure raising taxes on cigs is going to raise revenue,when your entire argument to start with is to get folks to stop buying legal cigs with the high tax increase.

Tobacco control lies from every angle they can think of.

All high taxes do is cause normally law abiding citizens to purchase blackmarket cigs from a bootlegger as what is happening in canada,ireland,england,new york,california etc....

Then we have the joke of second hand smoke,another lie created to make a healthscare out of smoke that has never harmed anyone except those who hate smokers!

Field studies of environmental tobacco smoke indicate that under normal conditions, the components in tobacco smoke are diluted below existing Permissible Exposure Levels (PELS.) as referenced in the Air Contaminant Standard (29 CFR 1910.1000)...It would be very rare to find a workplace with so much smoking that any individual PEL would be exceeded." -Letter From Greg Watchman, Acting Sec'y, OSHA

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 13, 2010 | 7:22 a.m.

As a matter of honesty, anyone commenting on cigarettes or cigarette taxes should divulge their personal history with tobacco products. My late wife and I stopped smoking in 1978. Our daughter was then living with us, and she tells stories about how unfit we were to live with during our initial self-imposed ban on smoking.

I favor taxing the hell out of tobacco products and also "spirituous liquors" (beer too) if - and only if - ALL TAXES COLLECTED ARE APPLIED TO PUBLIC EDUCATION: grade school, high school, junior college and to undergraduate education at Missouri public colleges and universities. NONE of the taxes collected should be used for ANY OTHER PURPOSE. If you intend to place the revenues in general state revenues, FORGET IT!

If such money were now available I favor a minor amount used to take administration of our primary state university out of the 19th Century and at least into the 20th Century. Calling our present governing body "curators" is apt; see the primary definition of "curator" in an unabridged English dictionary.

(Report Comment)
john erkle November 13, 2010 | 7:43 a.m.

Scientific Evidence Shows Secondhand Smoke Is No Danger
Written By: Jerome Arnett, Jr., M.D.
The Heartland Institute

The Myth of Second Hand Smoke (ETS)

BS Alert: The 'third-hand smoke' hoax

The thirdhand smoke scam

Thirdhand smoke fever - another example of prejudice and propaganda

(Report Comment)
John M. Nowell, III November 13, 2010 | 8:03 a.m.

If your intent is to make Missourians more healthy, let's take your reasoning to it's logical conclusion-ban the sale of cigarettes. I doubt that is your intent, as you couldn't stand the loss of tax revenue.

If cigarette taxes fund childrens health programs and other health care, then it's our civic duty to smoke as much as we can to help fund those programs. When politicians suggest raising taxes to help fund a particular program, beware. The lottery was sold to the voters to increase education funding, but the state defunded education by the amount the lottery provided. Smoke and mirrors, folks.

This article is nothing more than a trial balloon to make raising taxes more palatable. Nice try, but no sale.

(Report Comment)
Robert Partyka November 16, 2010 | 8:20 a.m.

Lol @ John Erkle for providing some of the phoniest, most sketchy, links around, including a blog. As the kids say, "Fail".

(Report Comment)
John Erkle November 16, 2010 | 4:56 p.m.

I assume your afraid of the truth getting out! Dont blame ya,especially if your livelihood comes from tobacco control.
BTW illinois is fixing to allow smoking in its casinos after losing nearly a half billion in revenues over the last 2 years........seems missouri has been taking their profits since the ban.....not good news for anti-tobacco followers as it lays the groundwork for legal challenges to other businesses to sue over!

(Report Comment)

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