Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Two Tobacco Taxes to be put on Missouri Ballot

JEFFERSON CITY (August 9, 2016) -- Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander has validated two initiative petitions, one Constitutional and one statutory, relating to tobacco taxes.

If passed by the voters, the initiatives would raise the tax on some cigarettes by more than $1.50 a pack. Missourians have previously turned down tobacco tax increases in 2002, 2006 and 2012.

The initiative seeking to place a tobacco tax in the Missouri Constitution has received more than 90%, or almost $3 million, of its funding from RAI Services, better known as R.J. Reynolds tobacco company of North Carolina. This Big Tobacco Constitutional tax scheme, often referred to as “Raise Your Hand for Kids”, is an outrageous and unfair 750% tax increase that hurts consumers and small businesses and is designed primarily to massively tax and thus cripple Reynold’s value brand competition.

Reynold’s Constitutional tax scheme is being opposed by the Missouri National Education Association, the Missouri Association of Rural Education and the Missouri Retired Teachers Association because it allows public funds to go to private schools with little oversight or accountability.

Other opponents include the editorial pages of the St. Louis-Post Dispatch, the Columbia Daily Tribune, and organizations that support life-saving stem cell research. Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis County, said the initiative was “hijacked” and that it “threw a bone to groups against stem-cell research and anti-abortion proponents.”

Surprisingly, Big Tobacco’s Constitutional tax scheme is opposed by groups that typically support tobacco tax increases including: the American Cancer Society, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association in Missouri, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and Tobacco-Free Missouri.

These groups called Reynold’s Constitutional tax “insufficient” and went on to say in a joint statement that:

“R.J. Reynolds, best known for their infamous Joe Camel cartoon, is notorious for its aggressive efforts to lure kids into smoking. Undoubtedly, it is profit – not public health – that is the true motivation behind the tobacco industry’s sudden support of such a small tax, and they should not be determining Missouri’s public health policy.”

The fate of Big Tobacco’s Constitutional tax is yet to be determined. Two courts have struck the ballot language and the cost estimates on the petitions, which will likely invalidate all signatures. Missouri law requires Secretary of State Jason Kander to throw out petitions that do not have the official ballot title. However, Kander continues to push forward with plans to place Reynold’s amendment on the ballot. Additional lawsuits have been filed asking the court to strike Big Tobacco’s Constitutional tax from the November ballot.

The other approved ballot initiative, which seeks to change Missouri law, is a $0.23 increase on a pack of cigarettes that protects consumers and small businesses and uses the money to help fix Missouri’s unsafe roads and bridges. This proposal was sponsored by the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association (MPCA).

“We’ve been confident from the beginning that our proposal would be on the ballot and allow voters to make our roads and bridges safer and better, without a gas tax increase or toll roads, which benefits all Missourians,” said Ronald J. Leone, Executive Director of MPCA.