The arguments for Missouri’s Proposition B — the tobacco tax on the Nov. 6 ballot — are unusually compelling:
- Extend the lives of thousands of state residents, particularly young people, by prompting them to smoke less, to quit or to not start in the first place.
- Restore sense to policies that make cigarettes relatively cheap here at the same time all state taxpayers are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid spending directly related to smoking.
- Invest hundreds of millions of dollars in tax proceeds in things that can improve lives and our state’s future — 50 percent for public schools, 30 percent for colleges and universities, 20 percent for smoking prevention and cessation programs.
At 17 cents a pack, our cigarette tax is last in the nation. The proposed 73-cent boost would put us in the middle in our nine-state region and keep us easily in the bottom half of all states. And yet, by all reliable accounts the increase would be enormously helpful in heading off health problems and related costs.
Nearly one-fourth of adults in Northwest Missouri smoke cigarettes — even in the face of research of the last three decades that demonstrates how dramatically this increases health risks. Between 15 and 20 percent of our high school students smoke cigarettes.
Think about it: Our lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax almost certainly contributes to the 10,000 deaths a year in the state linked to tobacco use. We have the 11th highest smoking rate in the nation and the 8th highest deaths from lung cancer.
Credible studies indicate that if the increase passes, 33,000 adult smokers will quit over five years and more than 40,000 youths never will become addicted as adults. There is no question a higher cigarette tax will improve health outcomes for thousands of state residents.
The financial arguments are equally convincing. Any downturn in smoking will cut into the associated costs: $532 million a year spent on Medicaid patients with tobacco-related illnesses and $2.13 billion in overall annual costs for state consumers.
At the same time, conservative estimates put new tax collections at $283 million in the first year. That first-year impact — before smoking rates start to fall — is projected to be $2.1 million for Missouri Western State University, nearly $3 million for Northwest Missouri State University and around $2 million for the St. Joseph School District.
Every college and school district would benefit to the proportion they receive state funding now.
Opponents want voters to believe the state cannot be trusted to use the new tax proceeds as promised. They assert this despite the fact the proposition includes unprecedented safeguards.
The law requires all money from the higher tax collections to be treated as new funding and forbids it to be used to replace existing dollars spent on education. An annual audit is required.
Missouri voters should do the prudent thing and approve Proposition B.