Time For Missouri To Lose Its Hillbilly Status on Cigarettes

cigarette machine.jpg
Cigarette machine or Missouri voting booth? You decide!
Fred Teutenberg would call Missouri "the last refuge of the persecuted smoker."

That's one way to describe the state with the lowest cigarette taxes in the nation. Another would be to call it a hillbilly outlier, and justifiably so. When even such tobacco-producing states as South Carolina have recently raised taxes on cigarettes, what's keeping Missouri from doing the same?

Answers:
1) Missouri's red-state mentality, which refuses to see any taxes, even our ridiculously low cigarette tax, as possibly benefiting the economic health of the state. (Not to mention the health of our citizens.)

2) The burdensome Hancock Amendment that requires a statewide vote for any measure that could have Missourians paying a greater share of their personal income in taxes than they did in 1981.

Now the American Cancer Society is hoping to clear those hurdles by taking the measure directly to the people and offering them an educated alternative -- quite literally.

Yesterday the agency and like-minded supporters filed a petition with the Missouri Secretary of State to begin collecting signatures for a 2012 ballot initiative to raise the tax on cigarettes. The proposal would hike the tax up to 80 cents per pack. Of the $308 million in revenue the higher tax could generate, 50 percent would go to primary and secondary education, 30 percent would go to colleges and universities and 20 would go to smoking prevention and cessation programs.

Supporters of the initiative hope to get it on the November 2012 ballot. Similar attempts to increase the state cigarette tax failed at the polls in 2002 and 2006, although Missouri didn't have the "Cheapest Cigs in the Land" title back then. 

It's worth noting, too, that an 80-cent tax would still make Missouri among the cheapest states in the nation to purchase cigarettes -- and certainly a distant cry from the $2-and-up tax that 20 percent of states charge.

Moreover, who can argue with using proceeds from the tax to fund education in Missouri? The tax would take from the reckless and/or ignorant (however you want to define Missouri smokers) and reward those intent on improving their lives. With all due respect to Fred Teutenberg and his Cheapo Depot cigarette emporiums, what's not to like about that? 

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