Public health organizations oppose both Tobacco tax increase ballot measures

By  | 

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) -- On November 8, Missouri voters will decide the fate of two competing tobacco tax hikes.

Surprisingly tobacco companies are backing each, but health experts oppose them.

Proposition A would raise the cigarette tax by 23 cents a pack.
Constitutional amendment 3 would raise it by 60 cents.
But there's a lot more to it...

Bigger tobacco companies, brands like Camel, Newport, and Pall Mall support the bigger tax increase, Amendment 3.

But smaller tobacco companies, brands like Cheyenne, Decade and Exeter support the smaller tax increase, Prop A.

That seems funny right? Why would cigarette makers support a tax increase on their product?

Eric Johnson, manager at Don Johnson's Tobacco World, is voting no on both, and says it's all about competition:

"The first one, the 60 cent increase that RJ Reynolds is supporting, they're really trying to get some of these cheaper brands to be able to compete against them and stuff cause they've lost sales in Missouri," says Johnson.

Even if both pass, only the one with the most votes becomes law, so the big and small tobacco companies are spending money on ads to defeat each other:

Ads from "Vote Yes On 3 For Kids" are paid for by RJ Reynolds, (Camel cigarettes) and designed to make you think it's all about education.

But really, this all goes back to a 1998 lawsuit settlement.

Big Tobacco pays millions to the state each year, but the smaller tobacco companies don't, so their cigarettes are cheaper.

That's why big companies are pushing amendment 3: because it raises the price of cigarettes made by the smaller competition through a 67 cent per pack fee paid by wholesalers.

Smaller tobacco companies and convenience stores are pushing Prop A, the smaller tax, because it keeps their prices low.

Here's the twist, public health organizations like the American Heart and Lung Associations are against both tobacco tax increases. They have serious concerns about the fine print that voters won't get to see on the ballot.

"We urge voters to vote 'NO' on amendment 3 and 'NO' on proposition A," says Stephen Hall, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. "When you question motives and follow the money the trail leads directly to the tobacco industry. We do not want big tobacco or little tobacco writing tobacco policy for Missouri."

Hall says the proposed legislation includes other provisions in the fine print which benefit tobacco companies, like making it harder for government to do research on health affects of tobacco use and restricting the state government from warning people about the dangers of tobacco.

Hall says public health organizations want to see at least a $1 cigarette tax increase to push people to stop smoking. They say small, incremental tax increases don't actually cause people to stop smoking.