Missouri's Secretary of State has now approved more than a dozen petitions related to the taxing of tobacco products. But a lot fewer are likely to end up in circulation, and of those remaining, the aims may be very different.
It’s pretty common for groups to file several versions of a petition. That’s certainly the case for Misty Snodgrass of the American Cancer Society, who’s leading efforts by a coalition of health groups to raise Missouri’s cigarette tax from 17 cents a pack – the lowest in the country – to 90 cents.
“On our behalf, I would say it’s upwards of 10 or 15 [filed petitions],” says Snodgrass. “But we will only be running with one version.”
Snodgrass says the petition differences are technical, but expects to start collecting signatures on one by next month.
Two other petition efforts have also gotten state approval. One that would only affect taxes on small tobacco companies, has been withdrawn. The organizer, Mark Ellinger, says he has no plans to submit a different version.
The other approved petitions would let cities and counties set and control taxes on tobacco products. The state has preempted that since 1993, though St. Louis County and Jackson County have long had their own five cent tobacco tax that was grandfathered into that change.
“Nearly twenty years ago, politicians in Jefferson City banned local voters from having a say about their own local tobacco taxes,” says Mark Reading, who filed the petition. “This proposal would return to local voters the right to set and control local tobacco taxes in their communities and determine the use of local tobacco tax funds.”
Snodgrass, meanwhile, says the proposal is problematic.
“It doesn’t have any significant public health benefit to the state,” she says.
Her group’s proposal - to raise the state's cigarette tax and also tax other tobacco products 25 percent - would direct half of that revenue to elementary education, a third to higher education, and the rest to tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
Both groups will need to collect more than 90,000 signatures by May, to bring their measures up for a popular vote this year.