By Camille Bell, Student Writer
In an effort to deter smokers with the sticker shock on each carton, several states across North America have amended their constitutions to include a policy that raises cigarette taxes to service the public in various ways. These amendments are seemingly valiant, and the one on Missouri’s upcoming 2016 ballot is no exception.
Amendment 3 would raise the tax on cigarettes in Missouri by 15 cents per year over the course of four years. The profits from these taxes are to be allocated to Missouri’s early childhood health and education programs. With Missouri ranking near the bottom in childhood education and the obvious health consequences caused by first and second hand smoke, one may think that this is a no-brainer. Should we raise cigarette taxes in order to fund the development of childhood educational programs whilst deterring smoking in our state? Yes, of course! Right? Well, maybe not. An analysis beyond the surface of the Early Childhood Health and Education Amendment reveals that the policy may not be as beneficial to Missourians as it appears.
One of the main red flags regarding this amendment is that it has been largely designed and funded by one of Big Tobacco’s dominating forces, R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the manufacturer of popular cigarette brands such as Newport, Camel, and Pall Mall. The entity has provided over 5 million dollars in support of the constitutional effort. Why would a tobacco company fund an effort to make their products less affordable? That would be because the policy was hand-crafted by RJR Tobacco and benefits them directly in several ways. First, the amendment would funnel an estimated $9 million a year back to the tobacco industry just for collecting the tax. Secondly, the policy would ban public health agencies from receiving funding for advocating for stronger laws against tobacco as well as ban funds from being used for “tobacco-related research of any kind,” including research into the health consequences.
Finally, Amendment 3 would not raise the taxes on some of Big Tobacco’s best sellers, including cigars, chewing tobacco, and pipe tobacco. With that being said, maybe we need to rephrase our initial question to voters from, “Should we raise cigarette taxes in order to fund the development of childhood educational programs whilst deterring smoking in our state?” to “Should we raise cigarette taxes in order to fund the development of childhood educational programs whilst deterring smoking in our state by putting more money and control into the hands of Big Tobacco?”
Another snag in the plans for Amendment 3 that voters may be unaware of is that the tax increase on cigarettes outlined by the policy for our state will most likely not be as effective for deterring smoking as officials are making it seem. Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the United States, and the tax has been fixed at the same rate (17 cents per carton) for 23 years now. While an increase is considered long overdue by many, research suggests that the annual 15 cent tax increase will not deter Missouri’s addicted smokers. The United States Surgeon General recommends that to deter smoking, especially among adolescents, the age group that this policy claims to be benefiting, a significant tax increase on tobacco of at least $1 per pack is necessary. No wonder Missouri is one of the only states in which the tobacco industry is advocating for an amendment such as this. The minuscule increase will have little to no effect on tobacco consumers in our state.
Let’s once again return to our original question, “Should we raise cigarette taxes in order to fund the development of childhood educational programs whilst deterring smoking in our state?” Yes, of course! Right? Well, maybe not. Especially if the tax adjustment was devised by Big Tobacco, for Big Tobacco, and will ultimately benefit, you guessed it, Big Tobacco. The final decision lies in the hands of our voters as election 2016 dawns upon us.