WHAT OTHERS SAY: Tobacco tax hike in Missouri should be an easy winner

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 | 6:45 p.m. CDT; updated 8:50 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 24, 2012

As far as Missouri voters are concerned, the most important lawmaking body in 2012 just might be the American Cancer Society.

The nonprofit organization dedicated to improving health and eradicating smoking is aiming to do next year what Missouri's elected lawmakers have been unwilling to do: find money for education, improve health care and increase state revenue.

The solution, of course, is the simplest one available, and one we've advocated time and time again. It's time for Missouri to raise its lowest-in-the-nation tobacco tax.

That's what a coalition led by the cancer society intends to do. On Tuesday, the group filed paperwork with the secretary of state's office seeking approval for a ballot initiative that would do two things: raise the state's anemic 17-cents-per-pack cigarette tax by 80 cents and remove a loophole in Missouri law that has made the Show-Me State the nation's dumping ground for cheap cigarettes.

It is this second provision that holds the key to why the third time might be the charm for supporters of a tobacco tax hike. Their efforts fell just short in 2002 and 2006.

The big tobacco companies have been trying in vain to change the loophole in the Missouri Legislature for about as long as health care groups have been seeking a tobacco tax hike.

The loophole allows off-brand cigarettes to be sold cheaper in Missouri because, unlike the big companies, they aren't required to help fund the 1998 master legal settlement with most states over misleading tobacco product marketing.

Missouri is the only state that is a party to that agreement that still has the loophole.

It's no wonder, then, that the state has become a home for companies like "Dirt Cheap" that sell the off-brand cigarettes cheaply and with predictable results.

Missouri's lowest cigarette tax and lowest cigarette prices have led to some of the worst health outcomes, including high cancer rates and low birth weights. Even non-smokers pay the costs.

Every Missouri household, with a smoker or not, pays about $565 a year in additional state and federal tax burden, mostly for Medicaid costs because of increased health care costs related to smoking, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Here's what we know a tobacco tax increase would do, based on evidence from other states: It would decrease smoking. It would increase revenue. And it would improve the state's overall health.

Even with an 80-cent hike, Missouri's tobacco tax still would be far below the national average of $1.46. It would be lower than four neighboring states and higher than four others.

Missouri still would be a low-tax state, but it would be on the road to better health outcomes and more consistent funding for education.

What's not to like, especially when the benefits will be felt most significantly by the poor, and 80 percent of the nearly $300 million in anticipated new revenue would be dedicated to public education in the state?

It's a shame that lawmakers are unwilling to attack this issue even though both Democrats and Republicans, including Senate Budget Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, have found reasons to support a tobacco tax increase.

It is time for voters to take the matter into their own hands.

Copyright, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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John Schultz September 27, 2011 | 9:50 p.m.

And what happens when smoking goes down as the article claims? Tax revenue will decline and lawmakers (or the ACS) will raise taxes again, but maybe on something other than just cigarettes. It is for the children, you know. I'm sure many of us also recall the talk of new funding for the school when gambling was allowed in Missouri, then people were surprised to hear the non-lottery funding sources were diverted elsewhere.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller September 28, 2011 | 9:20 a.m.

The popular notion that smoker's health costs strap the health care system is negated by estimates by "Action on Smoking and Health" and University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter 2000. The former relates that a 30 year old smoker's life expectancy is about 30 more years while the 30 year old non smoker can look forward to living 53 years longer..

The Wellness Letter further estimates that every cigarette smoked reduces life by 11 minutes; accordingly, each carton costs a day and a half and every year of smoking cuts the life span by nearly two months. These estimates and similar tests delineate the utter foolishness in attempting to assess health care costs per smoker without considering also the obvious savings due to their significantly shorter life span.

And, I am utterly opposed to the imposition of "sin taxes" as I find no justification for the government to regulate, control or punish behavior either by taxing a particular segment of society or by taxing a legally produced and marketed product out of existence. Raising taxes to compensate for faulty financial management procedures is a poor way to run a railroad but levying that penalty on some 20 percent of the people is beyond reprehensible.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield September 28, 2011 | 9:33 a.m.

Sure, smokers might, on average, die younger. But the societal cost of their final years of life might outweigh any savings (e.g., income paid into Social Security that they never recieve because they die before retirement):

(Report Comment)
Charles leverett September 28, 2011 | 10:49 a.m.

Simple fact, the government doesn't chose cigarettes because it wants people to quit smoking, it's cause they can raise taxes and know that most won't quiet.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield September 28, 2011 | 11:05 a.m.

"80 percent of the nearly $300 million in anticipated new revenue would be dedicated to public education in the state"

Like gambling has?

(Report Comment)
Paul Austin September 28, 2011 | 5:53 p.m.

Excellent link Mr. Bearfield. It leaves the people spearheading this effort a lot to answer for the 98 year war they've been waging and what they've got to show for it.
As to the grisly, bean counting task of how many bills we all incur before we all take our evidential 'dirt nap', reality would surprise you. While compiling figures on obesity related costs these researchers also added other so-called hi-risk groups:
and was briefly reported in the media:
Clearly, they're doing a Tommy Flanagan on us: "The chunkers and puffers are causing your health premiums to go up...yeah, that's the ticket."
As to the worth of these programs they want to fund, they've found that out in New York:
and in New Jersey:
and they want to do it here.

(Report Comment)
Dakota Poirrier October 1, 2011 | 3:21 p.m.

Why is the government trying to treat smokers like second-class citizens? Did you know that during the huge wars of our past, the US Government GAVE free cigarettes to soldiers. Got hundreds of people hooked, and now they're trying to persecute them for it?! Smoking outside your house is NOT going to cause anyone else any harm. Fine, ban indoor smoking, but for God's sake quit raising taxes. The money they collect isn't going to go to anything productive, it's going to go to our MULTI-TRILLION DOLLAR DEFICIT. Raise taxes on porn and fast food! Obesity is just as expensive! Pornography desensitizes people to sex! Both are equally bad for society, but quit using smokers as your scapegoat...

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking October 2, 2011 | 6:18 a.m.

I'd like to see gasoline taxed instead. The argument can be made that it's just as addictive, and just as bad for us, as cigarettes are.


(Report Comment)
Steve Baumann October 2, 2011 | 7:28 a.m.

There are fewer and fewer people smoking, and as a reformed smoker, I'd vote for a hike in the tobacco tax.
I also feel liquor taxes should be raised.
The biggest concern for me though is government waste and misappropriation of the funds already in use. Why give the government more when they have not proven they can manage what they already have, more so on the Federal level.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith October 2, 2011 | 7:30 a.m.

Not only were cigarettes part of Army field rations, civilian airlines issued them with in-flight meals, even to cabin class passengers. As I recall there were two in a package, with the airline's logo on the package.

In the piston engine/propeller era of commercial aviation you could take an early evening flight from St. Louis to Memphis and they actually served dinner, and you had time to smoke one of the cigarettes before landing in Memphis. Now, with the jets, they barely have time to serve passengers a beverage (and passengers aren't allowed to smoke).

Those were interesting times, but I for one don't want to return to them.

Gasoline? Oh my, yes, 100 octane gasoline (AVGAS) fueled those planes.

(Report Comment)

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