For the third time in 10 years, Missourians are being asked to increase the tax on tobacco products. This time may be the charm.
We believe it will be.
Missouri has the lowest tobacco tax in the nation, 17 cents a pack, a surprising fact in a state that has no direct tobacco interest — no tobacco farms, no tobacco factories — just tobacco lobby money.
But a coalition of about 50 mostly health and education organizations is working hard to change that. Show-Me A Brighter Future has given voice to these organizations, as well as individuals, who believe that the cost to the state from the effects of tobacco far outweigh the additional 73-cents-per-pack tax increase Proposition B would impose.
We agree. The News-Leader Editorial Board has supported other tobacco-related causes, including Springfield’s recent smoking ban.
We hold that position because we believe that the health of our readers and our citizens is important, and we know that tobacco hurts people’s health.
We want children to grow up with healthy lungs and hearts, and we know that if they take up smoking or live with smokers, their healthy chances are diminished.
We want adults to be productive, and we know that tobacco use cuts into productivity because of tobacco-related health problems, from the common cold to cancer.
We want Missouri to be a healthy and productive state where we put the health and well-being of our citizens above our pocketbooks.
So, we say, vote yes on Prop B.
Yes, we understand the objections — lost revenue for tobacco retailers, especially in border communities where they lure smokers from neighboring states to purchase their tobacco products at a lower rate; and the impact on the poor who smoke in disproportionately higher numbers.
The Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, which opposes Prop B, paid for a study by a University of Missouri economist that found Prop B could translate into a loss of at least $67 million in local tax revenues from people who are addicted to tobacco products.
In 2002 and 2006, Missouri voters rejected a more modest and a more expensive tax increase on tobacco, but the measures lost by narrow margins — 2 percent in 2002 and 3 percent in 2006, when R.J. Reynolds and other big tobacco companies funded the dubiously named Missourians Against Tax Abuse.
In a 2011 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index, Missouri ranked second in the number of smokers, at 26 percent, ahead of every bordering state except Kentucky, which has a higher rate of 60 cents per pack but is the lowest among states that border ours. The national average is 20 percent.
Show-Me A Brighter Future has estimated that the tax increase could cause 33,300 adult smokers to quit and 40,100 kids never to start. Those numbers are based on experience in neighboring states. Consider Kansas, with a 79-cent-per-pack tax and a 19 percent smoking rate. Illinois, with a $1.98-per-pack tax, has a 21 percent rate. And Iowa, with a $1.36 tax, has a 22 percent rate.
If higher taxes can make that kind of impact, including on those who can ill afford to buy tobacco products as they are struggling to buy food, medicine and housing, then we believe it is a good idea.
To make it a win-win, the higher tax could bring in at least $283 million in new tax revenue for education and smoking cessation programs.
Springfield public schools stand to gain $3.7 million in new funding, according to the Missouri School Boards’ Association.
And those numbers shrink when you compare them to the $2.5 billion a year the American Lung Association estimates Missouri businesses lose each year from lost productivity because of smoking.
And all of the talk of money is minimized by the 22,200 smoking-related premature deaths proponents believe will be avoided if the tax can dissuade those smokers.
Missourians are becoming more aware of the health and economic impact tobacco is having on their state and their families. The Show Me State has seen it.
A Missouri State University political science professor, who said he was skeptical of the chances that Prop B will pass, was quoted in a Sept. 2 report in the News-Leader, “Missouri is still a low-tax, low-services state, and that’s what people want.”
We believe the people of Missouri want healthy families and neighbors. And we believe those people will pass Prop B.
Copyright Springfield News-Leader. Reprinted with permission.