Proposed tax increase targets tobacco users in Missouri

Published: Jul. 28, 2016 at 2:38 PM CDT
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Lots of those who have smoked for years will tell you they're trying to quit, but a proposed tobacco tax increase will not be what helps them kick the habit.

"For one thing the extremity of it," said smoker Eric Johnson.

Johnson also works at his father's tobacco shop, Don Johnson's Tobacco World in Springfield. He is concerned about the potential jump from 17 cents, the lowest in the nation, up to 77 cents.

"They're (smokers) not getting any more money from working or social security or disability, so it's going take its toll on them, but I think they'll still smoke," he said.

Voters in November will decide whether to tax smokers more. The proposed increase is meant to generate some $300 million a year for early childhood health and education programs.

"That will provide for the 21,000 kids we've got in Greene County that are under the age of preschool age," said Gerry Lee, a Springfield Public School Board member.

The funds would provide support during the most pivotal time of learning. Backers point out it will be allocated by county and project based on plans put forth from different districts.

"That's one of the benefits of it is local control will determine how that's spent," Lee said.

Health statistics show smokers put a major strain on health care system increasing costs for everyone, thus the tax, but critics see it as an unfair burden for a small number of people.

"They're already spending at a minimum $25 a carton, you know, a week, and that's $100 a month, and some of these people are living on $800, $900 a month," Johnson said.

There are lawsuits in play right now challenging the ballot issue itself.

One of them questions the wording.