COLUMBIA — Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the nation by 13 cents, but some local legislators hope to change that in the coming session.
Missouri’s tax is 17 cents per pack of 20 cigarettes, a rate that has not increased in more than a decade. The average state cigarette tax is $1.45 per pack, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy group that monitors tobacco trends.
While campaigning for the Nov. 2 election, two local politicians advocated for an increase in the cigarette tax as part of their platforms. State Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, said Missouri “definitely needs to look at an increase.”
“We should at least be able to have the smokers take responsibility for the cost the state is incurring because of their smoking habits,” Still said.
Still said the cigarette tax should be looked at as a “user tax” because only those who smoke have to pay it. She said the point of the tax is to have smokers contribute some of what they are costing the state in Medicaid dollars because of smoking-related illnesses.
“It’s more a matter of personal responsibility,” she said.
Still said her reasons for considering a cigarette tax increase are:
- Adding “much-needed” revenue to the state.
- Deterring people, especially teenagers, from smoking.
- Allowing smokers to help cover costs of smoking-related health problems.
Still said she wants voters to realize how much lower Missouri’s cigarette tax is than any other state’s tax and the potential effects of that, such as an increased amount of people smoking.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 25 percent of the adult population in Missouri are cigarette smokers. Across the country, the amount of adult cigarette smokers ranges from 9.3 to 26.5 percent per state.
“Being the lowest (cigarette tax) in the country is really nothing to be proud of,” Still said.
Still said she will likely propose to raise the tax 12 cents per year until it reaches $1. She said the legislature could either vote on a small increase, such as this, or the public could vote on a more substantial increase. Missouri law does not allow the General Assembly to vote internally on large tax increases.
Still said the tax has a good chance of being accepted by the public because “the economy is such that the public recognizes we’ll have to have revenue from somewhere.”
State Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said if a cigarette tax increase goes to a public vote it should be specified how the money would be used.
“You’d have greater buy-ins from citizens because they’d see where the money was going and greater buy-ins from various constituent groups, who’d be more inclined to support the tax,” Kelly said.
According to the Missouri Department of Revenue, the current 17-cent tax is spread among the state school money fund (9 cents per pack of 20), the health initiatives fund (4 cents per pack of 20) and the fair share fund (4 cents per pack of 20).
Kelly said even though the current economic and political climates indicate citizens don’t want to see any tax increases, he would prefer that a raise in the cigarette tax goes to a public vote.
Kelly also said he would like to see cigarette tax revenue go toward elementary and secondary education, higher education, capital improvements, veterans and other state services. He said he would support increasing the tax by any amount up to a dollar.
“You could do a lot for higher education with this,” Kelly said.