Missouri health advocates today filed with the secretary of state for a ballot initiative to raise the state’s famously low Red & White cigarette tax by 80 cents per pack.
The American Cancer Society and its coalition of health, education and business groups will have to collect more than 90,000 petition signatures by May to get their measure on the ballot, most likely for the November 2012 general election. Tobacco opponents have been able to do that before, only to see proposed tax increases fail at the polls in 2002 and 2006.
Meanwhile, other states have been raising their tobacco taxes, leaving Missouri with the lowest cigarette excise tax in the nation – 17 cents per pack. The average for all states is $1.46 per pack.
The Cancer Society estimates the tax increase would raise about $308 million a year in new revenue, with half going to elementary and secondary education; 30 percent to colleges and universities, mainly to train healthcare providers; and 20 percent to tobacco use prevention and cessation programs.
“I think the other (initiatives) were done very well. They were narrow losses,” said Misty Snodgrass, Missouri legislative and government relations director for the Cancer Society. “This one has broader appeal. It impacts more people.”
The measure has the backing of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and of civic leader Warren Erdman, a curator of the University of Missouri system and an executive of Kansas City Southern.
Snodgrass said other health, education and business groups also support the ballot initiative.
Another attempt to raise tobacco taxes is going to run into opposition from retailers, notably the members of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, which fought the proposed tax increase in 2006.
“It’s déjà vu all over again,” said Ronald Leone, the association’s executive director. “The association is confident the voters will say ‘no’ a third time. I think certainly a majority of Missourians will understand that low taxes are a good thing.”
No only do low taxes foster job growth, but in the case of tobacco, they lure smokers into the state to take advantage of lower cigarette prices, Leone said.
Snodgrass said the tax increase was set high enough to discourage smoking — Missouri has some of the highest smoking and lung cancer rates in the nation — but not so high as to make the state uncompetitive with most of its neighbors.
Even with an 80-cent increase, Missouri’s tax would be lower than those in Illinois, Iowa and Arkansas, she said. It would, however, be higher than Kansas’ 79 cents per pack.