Tobacco tax supporters plan multi-million dollar campaign

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Supporters of a tobacco tax increase approved for the November ballot say they have $2 million in the bank -- and plan to raise more -- for an aggressive advertising campaign.

The proposal, to be known as Proposition A on the Nov. 5 ballot, would raise Missouri's cigarette tax to 72 cents a pack from the current 17 cents, and would raise other state tobacco taxes by 20 percent.

Much of the $342 million expected to be generated annually would go toward health care programs.

"We're going to run a multi-million dollar, modern campaign," Brad Ketcher, a spokesman for Citizens for a Healthy Missouri, said Tuesday.

A Cole County judge cleared the way Monday for the proposal to appear on the ballot, reversing a decision by Secretary of State Matt Blunt that a petition drive had fallen just short of the required number of registered voters' signatures.

Blunt's office said Tuesday that it would not appeal.

"Secretary Blunt made the decision to let voters decide," said chief legal counsel Terry Jarrett.

Ketcher said the health-care industry and business groups in St. Louis and Kansas City are providing much of the money for the campaign by supporters.

The big-money campaign would be the second this year for a Missouri ballot proposal.

In August, voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that would have raised about $500 million annually for transportation through higher state sales and motor vehicle taxes.

Supporters of the tax flooded the airwaves with advertisements while spending more than $3.7 million. By comparison, opponents spent barely $12,000 and ran a limited number of radio ads.

Some political observers criticized the ad campaign of transportation proponents for stressing -- and perhaps stretching -- its potential safety benefits while not focusing in some ads on the actual road improvements.

Without commenting on the transportation tax campaign, Ketcher said the focus of tobacco tax ads "is going to be about the merits of the proposal."

Under the proposal, 43 percent of the money would go to health care treatment, including prescription drugs for seniors and initiatives for the poor, women, minorities and children.

Of the rest, 29 percent would go to hospital trauma care, 14 percent to life sciences research, 7 percent to smoking prevention efforts and 7 percent to early childhood programs.

Many of those same programs have been budgeted to receive money from Missouri's share of a national settlement with big tobacco companies. But because of budget troubles, Gov. Bob Holden has withheld part of the money to help cover shortfalls elsewhere.

The Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association already has announced its opposition to the proposal.

"Proposition A is a 324 percent tax increase designed to create a huge statewide bureaucracy and entitlement programs that will go on forever, long after the tobacco money has dried up," executive director Ronald J. Leone said.

The association plans to place placards atop fuel pumps and hand out fliers opposing the tax during the final two to four weeks before the election, Leone said.

He hopes a relatively low-budget campaign can duplicate the results achieved by transportation tax opponents.

"Certainly we cannot match the proponents' financing," Leone said. "However, I think we have the stronger argument and the captive audience, and I think that makes all the difference come Nov. 5."

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