KCUR News
1:42 pm
Fri June 24, 2011

Cigarette Tax Proposal Draws Scrutiny

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Secretary of State has approved a petition for circulation that would raise the state's cigarette tax by a dollar. But as KCUR's Elana Gordon reports, the petition is not gaining popularity among some long-time tobacco-tax supporters.

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At seventeen cents a pack, Missouri currently has the lowest cigarette tax in the country. Misty Snodgrass, with the American Cancer Society, wants to see an increase.

"It's a win, win," says Snodgrass. "There's significant health and economic benefits."

Snodgrass says a higher tax would give smokers an incentive to quit. It would also raise revenue for the state.

The Cancer Society has backed previous attempts at a tax increase in Missouri, which twice failed in popular votes in 2002 and 2006.

But Sondgrass and other long-time tobacco tax advocates are not fans of a new cigarette-tax petition that was approved for circulation earlier this month. That's because it would only raise the cigarette tax on smaller companies, those which aren't part of the landmark 1998 tobacco settlement.

The '98 settlement requires that big companies, like Philip Morris, pay states annually to help recover the costs of treating sick smokers. In Missouri, that amounts to about $150 million a year. A legislative attempt to include smaller companies in the tobacco payments failed this past session.

Snodgrass says only raising the cigarette tax on these non-participating, generic brands wouldn't do much to discourage smoking or bring the state much revenue. The petition estimates the tax would raise between $20 and $100 million annually.

The petition would need about 90,000 signatures by next May in order to be on the ballot in 2012.

Marc Ellinger, who filed the petition, is not responding to questions.

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