Missouri Cigarette Tax Hike Goes Down to Defeat

Published January 1, 2013

The third time was not the charm for supporters of a higher cigarette tax in Missouri, as voters rejected for the third time in 11 years a ballot measure to raise the state’s cigarette tax.

“While 21 percent of Missouri adults smoke, 51 percent of voters rejected another attempt to raise the state’s cigarette tax at the ballot box. This is evidence that nonsmokers understand that targeted tax increases on cigarettes and other products prop up more government spending and do nothing to prevent future tax increases,” said John Nothdurft, director of government relations at The Heartland Institute.

Missouri has the lowest state cigarette tax in the nation, at 17 cents a pack, according the Tax Foundation. Proposition B, which appeared on the November 6 ballot, would have raised it to 90 cents, still below the national average of $1.49 per pack.

Shopping Lure

The low cigarette tax lures shoppers from neighboring states to Missouri to buy cigarettes and, often, other things as well, said Ronald Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association. The organization led the opposition to the tax increase.

“If we can give commonsense Missourians the facts, we’re confident they’ll make the right choice,” Leone said.

He said many voters were turned off by such a large tax increase. They also doubted the promises of politicians on how the money would be spent.

Voters also understood the low tax draws shoppers from other states and realized some of that business would be lost if the cigarette tax were to take a big jump, he said.

Education, Smoking Cessation

The Missouri state auditor’s office estimated the state government could have collected as much as another $423 million annually if voters had approved the tax increase. Proposition B had the support of the American Cancer Society and public school officials, among others. Legislators had said they would spend the additional money on education and smoking cessation programs.

In a November 7 article in the Kansas City Star newspaper, reporter Bill Draper of the Associated Press quoted Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia), who sponsored the measure, as saying, “It was the most important thing on the ballot, more important than any statewide candidate, for the well-being of both the kids in Missouri and our economic development.”