Proposition A targets tobacco addicts

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

It would be safe to assume that many of Missouri's smokers will oppose Proposition A on the Nov. 5 ballot. Proposition A would quadruple the tax on a pack of cigarettes to 55 cents and increase the state tax on other tobacco products by 20 percent.

It also would be safe to assume that many Missourians suffering from smoking-related illnesses would welcome some assistance with their medical bills. Proposition A promises to provide this assistance.

And it would be safe to assume that a lot of non-smokers will see Proposition A as a way to get people to stop smoking. And, since non-smokers won't be paying the new tax, supporters of Proposition A expect a lot of them to back the ballot issue, even though the chances of getting any kind of tax passed in Missouri in recent months has been slim and none.

Proposition A is a bad tax, and here's why:

Missouri's annual payments from the national settlement with Big Tobacco are roughly equivalent to half the estimated $342 million a year that would come from Proposition A. The Big Tobacco settlement was supposed to repay the state for its expenses incurred as the result of smoking-related illnesses. The money has been sucked into the state budget to offset sluggish revenue from other sources.

Citizens for a Healthy Missouri, the major supporter of Proposition A, has taken great pains to ensure that new revenue from increased tobacco taxes would go for specific purposes. While that sounds like a good way to keep the state from diverting the revenue for purposes unrelated to the health of tobacco users, it also sounds like another fixed tax -- with no end in sight -- like the Department of Conservation's eighth-cent sales tax that can't be used for any other purpose.

Only 7 percent of the revenue from Proposition A would be earmarked for smoking prevention. (Most of the revenue -- 43 percent -- would be for health care, including prescription-drug assistance for senior citizens. Another 29 percent would be fore emergency and trauma care. The rest would be for life-science research and early child care and education.)

Clearly, the anticipated revenue boost from Proposition A depends on the expectation that Missourians will continue to smoke in spite of a hefty increase -- it's one of the largest tax increases in Missouri history -- in tobacco taxes. In other words, Proposition A would prey on the addiction of Missourians to tobacco.

Missouri's current budget crunch is the result of too much spending, not too little revenue. The Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association opposes Proposition A. Ron Leone, the association's executive director, rightly observes that Proposition A would add to the bloat of the state budget and significantly expand the state's welfare spending.

Proposition A proponents say more than 100,000 Missourians die each year from tobacco use and 17,000 children in the state take up smoking on a daily basis. Those statistics make a stronger case for banning tobacco than taxing it.

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