Missouri is a low tax state.
That fact is sometimes lost in the campaign bluster that accompanies an election year.
For years, organizations that rank states according to the various taxes they levy have affirmed this fact. Another study released last week rated Missouri as the 16th friendliest tax climate for businesses in the nation.
In critical categories like corporate and property taxes, Missouri ranks in the top ten of all 50 states in terms of lowest taxes.
We are all for low taxes — except when it defies common sense.
That is the case with Missouri’s tobacco tax which is the lowest in the nation at 17 cents per pack. The national average among states is $1.49.
Cheap cigarettes is one of the main reasons there are so many smokers in our state. In a 2011 Gallup-Healthways study, Missouri ranked second in the number of smokers at 26 percent. The national average is 20 percent. Other studies consistently rank Missouri in the top 10 or 11 among states in tobacco use.
The same studies list our state among the leaders in deaths from lung cancer in the nation. The sad fact is that tobacco use causes one out of five deaths in Missouri. It also is responsible for over $530 million in Medicaid costs the state must fund.
The correlation between cheap cigarettes and health problems is undeniable. That is why Health.com rated Missouri as one of the top 10 states in the country where people are most likely to literally smoke themselves to death.
That could change in November if voters approve Proposition B.
Show-Me A Brighter Future, a diverse coalition of about 50 health and education organizations, led by the American Cancer Society, is promoting the statewide ballot initiative which would raise the tobacco tax 73 cents to 90 cents per pack of cigarettes and increase taxes on other tobacco products.
The annual projected revenue raised from the tax — estimated at around $283 million will go toward education and smoking cessation programs.
Opponents dispute those numbers. They argue that if Prop B passes, fewer smokers from bordering states will come to Missouri to buy cigarettes resulting in less tax revenue for education.
We have no doubt that a higher tobacco tax may dissuade some from coming here to purchase cigarettes. How many people is hard to predict. We certainly don’t buy the argument that Prop B will be devastating to Missouri’s economy.
The reality is that if Prop B were to pass, Missouri’s tobacco tax would still be well under the national average. Passage of Prop B isn’t going to jeopardize Missouri’s reputation as a low tax state.
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 based on experience in neighboring states.
If it were to happen, it would save the state millions in future Medicaid expenses. We believe this is a more compelling argument.
Raising the state’s tobacco tax is long overdue and makes a lot of sense. That is why we support Prop B.