A coalition of health care groups that have historically bankrolled efforts to increase Missouri’s lowest-in-the-nation tobacco tax announced Wednesday that they will not be doing so this year.
Two tobacco tax proposals could end up on the statewide ballot this fall.
Both efforts are funded by tobacco companies, which was the main reason groups like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City announced Wednesday that they were in opposition.
“It is alarming and deceitful for the tobacco industry to support two insufficient tobacco tax proposals in our state under the guise of concern about education and transportation funding,” the coalition of groups said in a statement. “Small increases to the tobacco tax — like the proposals being considered — will generate new revenue but will not keep kids from becoming addicted to cigarettes or help adults quit.”
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One would incrementally increase Missouri’s 17-cent-per-pack tobacco tax by 23 cents and put the extra money toward road repairs. It’s being pushed by the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, a longtime opponent of previous efforts to raise the cigarette tax. It’s being largely funded by smaller, value-brand cigarette companies like Cheyenne International LLC and Xcaliber International Ltd.
The other would amend the state’s constitution to gradually raise the tax 60 cents per pack and use the new money to pay for early childhood education and preventive health programs. It’s supported by a nonprofit called Raise Your Hand for Kids. The parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. has donated $1.2 million in support of the measure.
The key issue drawing the rival tobacco companies into the debate is the fact that for more than a decade Missouri lawmakers have declined the state attorney general’s request to pass a law to nullify a pricing advantage that small tobacco manufacturers enjoy.
Big tobacco companies like R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris were included in a 1998 legal settlement that forced them to make annual payments to Missouri to cover the health damage their products caused smokers. Smaller tobacco companies were not included in that settlement.
The early childhood education ballot measure would address that difference. The transportation funding ballot measure would not.
Raise Your Hand for Kids released a statement Wednesday expressing disappointment.
“While we had hoped for their support, our focus remains on finding a solution that will help kids, pregnant women and tobacco cessation programs across the state,” the group said.
Since 2011, the American Cancer Society and the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City have combined to spend nearly $5 million trying to increase Missouri’s tobacco tax. The effort narrowly lost in 2012.