SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Major health organizations like the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association came out in opposition this week against proposals to raise the tobacco tax this year in Missouri.
At 17 cents per pack, Missouri has the lowest tobacco tax in the country. A proposal to raise the tax by 23 cents per pack and a proposal to raise it by 60 cents per pack are gaining traction.
Health groups wrote in a news release a 60-cent hike, which would nearly quadruple the tax, is still pocket change compared to the negative public health costs associated with smoking.
As a physician, Jim Blaine has supported every effort to increase the tobacco tax in Missouri, because tobacco-related illnesses kill 10,000 Missourians every year.
“Our opponents, the tobacco industry, will say that everyone knows that tobacco is not good for you,” Blaine said. “It’s beyond that — tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and illness on the planet.”
To shield themselves from lawsuits, big tobacco companies have paid Missouri more than $2 billion since 2001 as part of the tobacco master settlement agreement. However, hardly a dime of this money is used to help Missourians kick the habit or to keep kids from starting.
“The CDC would like for us to spend as a minimum a little over $90 million a year on prevention to comply with their guidelines, we spend nothing,” Blaine said.
The convenience store lobby is behind a proposal to raise the tobacco tax by 23 cents.
That would generate about $100 million a year for transportation.
The other proposal comes from a group known as Raise Your Hand for Kids and even has the support of R.J. Reynolds, a major tobacco company.
It would raise the tax by 60 cents and generate more than $300 million per year.
The money would be split up between early childhood education and health as well as smoking prevention.
“To raise the tobacco tax we’ve tried it so many times, three times in the past and they’ve failed each time,” said Raise Your Hand for Kids Executive Director Linda Rollo.”All of our polling indicated that 60 cents was about the highest we could get out of voters and be successful.”
“The Raise Your Hand for Kids [proposal] is certainly a lot better,” Blaine said. “It is disappointing to those of us in public health because it only gives 5 to 10 percent to prevention; we’d prefer that be 50 percent.”
Although major health organizations are not sold on either of these proposals, Blaine said a 60 cent hike is better than nothing and would help begin to curb smoking rates.
The organizations supporting both of these tobacco tax increases are currently working on getting the signatures they need to get the proposals on the ballot.
If they are successful, Missouri voters will see this issue on the ballot in the fall.
Missouri voters defeated a 73 cent tobacco tax hike in the last presidential election in 2012.