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Opponents say Cigarette Tax Initiative Misses the Mark

August 23, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - An initiative petition that seeks to increase revenue from taxes on cigarettes in Missouri might not be what it seems at first glance. Opponents say it targets only small tobacco product manufacturers and would be a setback in attempts to get the state to raise the overall cigarette tax.

The state's cigarette tax is now just 17 cents a pack, and this measure for the 2012 ballot would raise it on a pack of cheaper, off-brand cigarettes by one dollar. But State Representative Jeanne Kirkton of Webster-Groves says it's not worth it.

"If we pass this on just the off-brand manufacturers, it's not likely that we'll ever get an across-the-board cigarette tax in Missouri, and right now we are the lowest in the nation."

Representative Mary Still of Columbia agrees that a broader tax is needed, and says she's disappointed in legislators who signed on to a "no tax" pledge.

"We have to look to the public to lead the leaders, and I think that's unfortunate that we would have to go to the expense of an initiative petition. The legislature should do this and they should be held accountable if they're opposed to it."

Legislator Kirkton says the state needs a higher tax on cigarettes, but this isn't the best way to go about it. She adds that it's really just scratching the surface of what's needed in Missouri.

"We're kind of nitpicking around the issue of raising revenue, but we have a lot of other work that needs to be done. Our state income tax is so antiquated it hasn't been addressed since 1931."

Rep. Still says the state could raise the overall cigarette tax by 12 cents a pack and it still would remain the lowest in the nation. She sees it as a "user" tax.

"Smokers cost our state well over $300 million a year in medical expenses. At the very least, you would think that we could have a tax so that at least the smokers would be paying their own way, paying their fair share."

The initiative measure for a limited tax increase could bring between $20 million and $100 million annually to the state. Supporters say it would reduce smoking and raise necessary funds. Opponents argue that the petition is a misleading ploy by major cigarette manufacturers that would raise only a fraction of the revenue that an overall tobacco tax increase would produce.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - MO