House Committee Weighs Cigarette Tax Proposals 2

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JEFFERSON CITY - The House Ways and Means Committee heard testimony Thursday on three different proposals to increase the state's tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The three bills differ substantially on how much they increase the tax, what gets taxed, how they would be approved, and where they direct the extra revenue. House Bill 1673 would increase the state tax on cigarettes from 17 cents per pack to 33 cents over four years and send the extra revenue into the state's general fund, meaning it could be used for any purpose. House Bill 1478 would set a referendum on whether to increase the tax to 89 cents a pack and also increase taxes on other tobacco products including roll-your-own cigarettes. This proposal would direct its revenue toward public education. Meanwhile, rather than setting the tax at a fixed amount, House Bill 1976 would increase the tax on cigarettes to 75 percent of the national average. Like HB 1673, this bill would only affect cigarettes, although bill sponsor Jeanette Oxford, D-St. Louis, said she would consider expanding the tax to affect all tobacco products. Like the 89-cent proposal, this bill would also go to a public vote.

Representatives from the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and other groups threw their weight behind house bills 1478 and 1976. They expressed concern that HB 1673 would not raise the tax enough to significantly impact smoking rates in Missouri.

Misty Snodgrass, the American Cancer Society's state director of Government Relations, said HB 1478 matched the Society's goals most closely. She said the group is working on an initiative similar to the bill that would direct part of the revenue toward tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

Ronald Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, disagreed. He said the 33 cent proposal would be fine, but the other two proposals would drive out-of-state customers away from convenience stores. He called the other two proposals "outrageous and unreasonable" and said they would put Missouri at a competitive disadvantage with the state on its border, all of which have significantly higher cigarette taxes. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Missouri's cigarette tax is the lowest in the nation. Nebraska charges the lowest tax of any state bordering Missouri, at 64 cents per pack.