Cheapest Smokes in the Nation
In just a few weeks, Missouri will become the least expensive state in the nation to purchase cigarettes. In May, South Carolina legislators voted for a 714-percent tax increase on packs of cigarettes (effective in July), soon making Missouri the state with the lowest tax per pack.
Efforts to increase Missouri’s cigarette tax have been around for a while, and are often couched as an incentive to get smokers to quit and improve public health. The issue is now back on the radar in states like Missouri that are struggling to balance their budgets.
Using the Show-Me IDEAS tool, I was able to compare cigarette taxes across states. This chart shows the nation’s average tax at around $1.30 per pack, far higher than Missouri’s 17 cents per pack:
Illinois legislators recently put a $1 per pack hike proposal on hold until later this summer. If this goes through in Illinois, smokers along the border and in the Metro East can look to Missouri for the cheapest cigarettes in the nation — but only if Missouri can hold on to its new title.
Although the majority of Americans don’t smoke, a new poll suggests that most voters would favor increases in tobacco taxes as an alternative to state budget cuts. This kind of discrepancy demonstrates one of the main problems with cigarette taxes — those least directly affected by the tax feel justified in imposing a tax on those most affected.
John Stuart Mill had it exactly right. Only six years before the appearance of cigarette taxes in America, he wrote in On Liberty:
The majority have not yet learnt to feel the power of the government their power, or its opinions their opinions. When they do so, individual liberty will probably be as much exposed to invasion from the government, as it already is from public opinion. But, as yet, there is a considerable amount of feeling ready to be called forth against any attempt of the law to control individuals in things in which they have not hitherto been accustomed to be controlled by it; and this with very little discrimination as to whether the matter is, or is not, within the legitimate sphere of legal control; insomuch that the feeling, highly salutary on the whole, is perhaps quite as often misplaced as well grounded in the particular instances of its application.