Bus tour wraps up for Missouri tobacco tax measure

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Backers of a proposal to increase Missouri's lowest-in-the nation cigarette taxes wrapped up a statewide bus tour Friday at the state Capitol.

Supporters contend raising tobacco taxes would help dissuade children and teens from smoking, encourage adults to stop and boost revenue for education and anti-tobacco programs. The two-week bus tour stopped in more than 20 cities.

Missouri voters next month are considering an initiative that would raise the state cigarette tax to 90 cents per pack while also increasing taxes on other tobacco products. Missouri's cigarette tax currently is 17 cents per pack and is the lowest in the country.

The increase is estimated to generate between $283 million and $423 million annually in additional revenue. The proposal would steer half that money to public schools, 30 percent to higher education and 20 percent to tobacco cessation and prevention programs.

"This proposition is a win-win. It provides much needed revenue toward local public schools _ every school district in the state of Missouri will benefit. It provides much needed revenue to our universities and our colleges. It saves lives, and it keeps our kids from ever starting to smoke," said Misty Snodgrass, of the American Cancer Society.

Health organizations including the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association are pushing the ballot measure.

Opponents of the ballot measure contend the proposal would cost local governments.

The Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association earlier this month launched a campaign against the tobacco measure. Critics hired an economist at the University of Missouri-Columbia to analyze the measure, and that study assumes a higher state tobacco tax will cut into sales of tobacco products and therefore cuts the sales tax revenues of cities and counties.

This is the third time in a decade that Missourians have decided on a tobacco tax increase. Voters in 2002 defeated a 55-cents per-pack increase by roughly 31,000 votes and did the same in 2006, rejecting an 80-cents-per-pack increase by about 61,000 votes.