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Tobacco Tax Hike

September 23, 2002
By: Martha Kang
State Capital Bureau

I'm Martha Kang in Jefferson City, where smokers and non-smokers alike can now only hold their breaths until the November elections for the decision on the 55-cent tobacco tax increase.

If the tax is passed, the smokers in Missouri would have to pay 55-cents more per pack of cigarettes.

While this may do some damage to the heavy smokers' wallets, it could help repair the state's tight budget.

The tax would raise about one third of a billion dollars each year. The measure requires the extra money be used for health care, medical research and childcare programs.

Despite the benefits that these programs may generate for the state, the tax raise has left some Missourians fuming.

One of the main opponents is the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenient Stores Association.

The vice president of the group Ron Leone says the tax will drive cigarette sales away from Missouri to the bordering states and the internet.

However, the two biggest bordering states of Missouri, Kansas and Illinois, already have higher tobacco taxes.

But Leone says the tax will eliminate the lower tax advantage Missouri has over the two states, and will result in a loss of border sales for Missouri.

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Leone says he believes a black market for cigarettes will develop, as was seen in the state of New York when its tobacco tax was raised.

But some say the tax is necessary.

The proponent Citizens for Healthy Missouri's spokesperson Brad Ketcher says the state can use the money for important purposes.

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Ketcher also says higher taxes on cigarettes reduces consumption--particularly amony first-time, young smokers.

The American Lung Association says the increase in tobacco tax is a growing national trend.

18 states have already increased their tobacco taxes just this year.

In New York City, a pack of cigarettes now costs more than seven dollars, because the state and city taxes add up to almost three dollars.

Proposition A would more than triple the current tax, bringing the tax to 72-cents per pack.

For those Missourians reluctant to cut back, the tax may also mean a cut back on their budget.

In Missouri, the median income for smokers is about 26-thousand dollars per year.

The American Lung Asssociation says the prevalence of smoking decreases as the level of education increases.

A man who didn't finish high school is four times more likely to smoke than a man with a college education.

This raises the question of whether the tobacco tax would be regressive, since the poor are being taxed instead of the rich.

Should the poor be financing the state's healthcare?

And is it only right for smokers to pay for their cigarettes' harmful effects on others and the environment?

Some questions to consider as the November election approaches.

From the state Capital, I'm Martha Kang.