Health
3:05 pm
Mon April 30, 2012

Missouri Governor Stays Out Of Tobacco Tax Debate

While supporters of raising Missouri’s cigarette tax wrap up their petition gathering efforts in the next week, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has reaffirmed his distance from the initiative. 

The Associated Press reports:

Nixon said Monday his focus is "to hold the line on taxes" but Missouri voters are entitled to voice their own opinions at the ballot box…The state auditor estimates the initiative would generate between $283 million and $423 million annually for Missouri's budget. Asked if he would encourage voters to support the initiative, Nixon replied that he does not intend to get involved in any significant way.

Missouri’s Attorney General, on the other hand, recently stepped into the crossfire.  Earlier this month, Chris Koster mapped out his case for raising the tax in an op ed in the Kansas City Star:

The current budget and health problems facing our state are equally well known. Missouri spends more money under Medicaid to provide health care for smoking-related illnesses than we collect from the entire cigarette tax. In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that tobacco-related illnesses cost our state’s Medicaid program $532 million, and these costs have only skyrocketed with inflation. Yet Missouri collected just $90 million last year in cigarette taxes. Viewed through this lens, the General Assembly is subsidizing sick smokers more than $400 million annually. Under current tax law, Missouri has become an enterprise zone for cigarettes. I’m a strong supporter of enterprise zones, but not for cigarettes.

The American Cancer Society has been leading efforts to up the cigarette tax.  The group filed a ballot proposal last fall to bring the state’s cigarette tax to 90 cents a pack.  It currently stands at 17 cents a pack, the lowest in the country.  If the group collects enough signatures and if a court strikes down a legal challenge to the ballot language, residents can expect to vote on the issue in November.

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