The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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October 1, 2012

Missourians disagree on tobacco tax impact

Raising taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products would make the state healthier and better educated, advocates said Monday during a Joplin stop to promote the November ballot issue.

Opponents say the promise to benefit schools is a smokescreen, and that raising the tax would drive away business coming from neighboring states, leaving a combined $67 million hole in state, county and local revenues.

The proposed tax increase of 73 cents on a pack of cigarettes would raise more than $283 million annually and still leave the state’s tax rate lower than that in most other states, Misty Snodgrass, spokeswoman for the campaign, said when the Yes on Prop B Bus Tour made a stop at Joplin’s Cunningham Park. Joplin businessman Larry Warren and a teacher, Jim Hight, spoke in favor of the proposal.

The campaign is using a yellow school bus for visits to 24 communities over the next two weeks to promote the tax plan.

Missouri’s cigarette tax currently stands at 17 cents per pack, and it would go to 90 cents if voters endorse Proposition B on Nov. 6.

Snodgrass said 20 percent of the money raised is to go to programs to help smokers quit, while 50 percent would go to elementary and secondary education, and 30 percent would go to higher education.

“It will save lives and invest in education,” she said. “There are safeguards to make sure that’s where the money ends up. ... The coalition behind this initiative will be a constant presence in Jefferson City to remind the Legislature of the voters’ intent and to hold them accountable.”

Warren said that as a parent, he likes the idea of generating money for schools via the tax. And as a business owner, he said fewer workers who smoke would translate into lower health insurance costs and less time off the job.

“Education needs the additional funding,” said Hight, who teaches writing at Crowder College in Neosho and at Vatterott College in Joplin. He said the additional money for higher education would include an increase in funding for medical education.

Snodgrass said the campaign estimates that the higher tax would help more than 33,000 smokers quit, prevent 41,000 minors from starting smoking and translate to nearly $1.4 billion in health savings as a result.

She said the 73-cent-per-pack increase would put Missouri’s rate “still in the lowest one-third in the nation” in terms of tobacco taxes.

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