Still’s cigarette tax hike proposal solid

Mary Still, our 25th District state representative, is a strong advocate for a higher cigarette tax.

I’m on her side, and I would think many House members on both sides of the aisle would support her bill’s passage.

Mary is quick to supply the numbers — with help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Missouri Budget Project. Here are a few figures to support her argument.

  • Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the nation at 17 cents a pack. If Missouri doubles its tax, it would still be 49th. Virginia ranks 49th today at 30 cents a pack.
  • South Carolina, formerly the lowest, last July more than tripled its tax to 55 cents a pack.
  • To raise our tax 12 cents would bring $68 million to general revenue, and we’d still be the lowest rate in the nation.

These are simple facts. They have nothing to do with health issues and the huge costs tobacco use heaps on the health care system — now and even greater in the future.

Understand a cigarette tax has nothing to do with a loss of civil liberties nor is it an effort to enforce morality. Some call it a sin tax. Smoking is not a sin; it is a habit of choice.

Missouri is currently fourth in the country in percentage of adults who smoke; we rank fifth in the number of new lung cancer cases, though we’re 13th in population. The Missouri Budget Project estimates smoking-related illnesses cost the medical system $641 million in federal and state funds in 2009 — $256 million of it state money.

Mary has two proposals. The first is to raise the tax by 12 cents a pack. Such a boost can be done by a legislative vote. If our state government cannot agree to 12 cents, then it is obvious it can’t agree on anything that makes common sense.

Her second proposal is to raise the tax by $1 a pack. Such an increase would make it a ballot issue, allowing the residents of the state to be heard. Such a tax increase would still leave us well below the national average. A $1 increase would bring in $570 million in new money.

About three decades ago, Canada was literally going up in smoke — cigarette smoke. To cap a frightening teenage smoking rate and rising health care costs related to smoking, a national tax shot the cost of smokes out of sight. Adults as well as kids backed away. The price was right — high. Provinces joined in.

I recently called an old baseball friend in Manitoba to find out what Canadians pay for their habit today. Manitoba’s numbers:

  • Cigarette tax is 20.5 cents a cigarette, not a pack, for the province and 8½ cents a cigarette for the federals. A 25-cigarette pack costs $12.50 across the counter and includes a $5.08 provincial tax and a $2.13 federal tax.
  • A carton is eight packs — the same 200 cigarettes we have in a U.S. carton. To buy a carton in Manitoba, you pay $41 in provincial tax, $17 in federal tax and cough up a total of $99.60 for a carton.

The Northwest Territories charge $54.80 a carton, Nova Scotia hits the smoker for $51.24, and the national average is $41.95 a carton for provincial taxes.

Mary says, “Either proposal — 12 cents or $1 — moves Missouri ahead, both on health and well-being of our citizens. Either proposal improves our ability as a state to balance our budget and increases revenues to protect our investments, improve our economy and maintain our crumbling infrastructure. Either proposal serves as a user tax, allowing our citizens who smoke to contribute their fair share of the cost placed upon the state.”

Sounds good to me.


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