Where There’s Smoke . . .
Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the nation, but with two ballot initiatives coming up this November, that might change. Rather than considering the issue by comparing ourselves to our neighbors, shouldn’t we evaluate any tax increase according to the impact it will have on Missouri’s well-being? I think so.
Proposition A and Constitutional Amendment 3 propose to raise the state’s cigarette tax by 23 cents and 60 cents, respectively. The first of these initiatives would use tax revenues to fund transportation infrastructure, while revenue from the second primarily would fund childhood education programs.
This sounds like a win–win; smoking would likely be reduced due to higher costs, and more funds arguably would be available for other important priorities. But as you dig deeper into the details of these proposal, some important questions immediately come to mind. For example, no more than 25% of the revenue generated from Constitutional Amendment 3 may be used for health care facilities and smoking prevention programs, a restriction that is difficult to understand. If smoking is so harmful that taxation is going to be used to discourage it, doesn’t it make sense to use the resulting revenue to help people quit or keep them from starting?
We know that cigarette taxes are regressive by nature and tend to have larger impacts on low-income households. The prevalence of smoking is almost twice as high among people below the poverty level than among the rest of the population, so a disproportionate amount of the tax will be collected from those least able to afford it.
If the health risks associated with smoking are serious enough to warrant a sin tax, shouldn’t the resulting revenue be put toward services like smoking prevention programs or addiction treatment? On the other hand, if smoking isn’t enough of a problem that the government needs to help people quit, then why should smokers be singled out for a tax to fund expenditures that benefit all Missourians?