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Health advocates object to tobacco tax increase proposals

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Health advocacy groups, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association in Missouri, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and Tobacco-Free Missouri, came out Wednesday against two initiative petitions (IP) hoping to raise tobacco taxes for either transportation or early childhood education.

The groups called the proposals “insufficient” and said they would undermine public health.

Their joint statement:

“It is alarming and deceitful for the tobacco industry to support two insufficient tobacco tax proposals in our state under the guise of concern about education and transportation funding. Small increases to the tobacco tax – like the proposals being considered – will generate new revenue, but will not keep kids from becoming addicted to cigarettes or help adults quit.
“Tobacco taxes work when the price increase is substantial enough to motivate current smokers to quit and prevent kids from starting. A dime here or there is not sufficient. Tobacco companies are adept at finding ways to absorb small tax increases through adjusted pricing. What’s worse, these marginal increases could hamper future efforts; promising profitable returns for the tobacco industry at the continued expense of Missourians’ health.
“As organizations dedicated to improving public health, we have long been leaders in the fight against tobacco. The tobacco industry has an extensive history of directly opposing proven tobacco control measures in Missouri and across the country, and this is no exception. Make no mistake: the industry’s support for these small increases is merely to improve their image while lining their pockets. All previous efforts to raise Missouri’s tobacco tax by meaningful amounts have been thwarted by those who profit from smoking addiction – convenience stores and cigarette manufacturers. R.J. Reynolds’ recent contributions totaling more than $1.27 million in support of a tobacco tax proposal are unprecedented.
“R.J. Reynolds, best known for their infamous Joe Camel cartoon, is notorious for its aggressive efforts to lure kids into smoking. Undoubtedly, it is profit – not public health – that is the true motivation behind the tobacco industry’s sudden support of such a small tax, and they should not be determining Missouri’s public health policy.
“Tobacco products in Missouri are too cheap and the health costs are too high. Our state is long overdue for a tobacco tax increase, but it needs to be one that will make a difference and save lives. A meaningful tobacco tax increase – of $1.00 per pack or more – has proven time and again to be an effective way to reduce tobacco use, cut healthcare costs and generate state revenue.
“We will continue to advocate for evidence-based tobacco control policies that are proven to save lives.”

Both IPs are currently circulating their petitions. A first, supported by the Missouri Petroleum Convenience Store Association (MPCA), proposes to raise tobacco taxes hoping to bring about $100 million to the Missouri Department of Transportation, funding transportation infrastructure. A second, supported by Raise Your Hands for Kids (RYH4K), hopes to raise tobacco taxes to fund early childhood education.

“The ACS statement gets at least one thing right,” said MPCA Executive Director Ron Leone. “Voters should oppose R.J. Reynolds’ outrageous and unfair 750% tax increase because it benefits Joe Camel, hurts consumers and hurts small businesses.”

RYH4K also responded:

“We are disappointed by the news that some organizations who have historically agreed that there is a dire need to raise the tobacco tax and support early childhood health and education have decided to oppose our effort,” said Linda Rallo, RYH4K executive director. “While we had hoped for their support, our focus remains on finding a solution that will help kids, pregnant women and tobacco cessation programs across the state. We believe our initiative is a realistic, pragmatic, middle-of-the-road approach for Missouri, which has historically rejected other initiatives that called for significantly higher tobacco taxes. Missouri has one of the highest rates of smokers in the country and one in six pregnant women in our state still smoke. Funding under our initiative would increase state spending on tobacco prevention from less than $100,000 to nearly $30 million annually.
“We’re willing to work with all parties who are interested in a constitutional amendment that helps Missouri kids by addressing early childhood education and smoking cessation, with strong accountability provisions in place,” Rallo continued. “We’re thrilled to see the large number of people and organizations who have expressed interest in working with us. It’s encouraging for us to see so many Missourians who are passionate about this cause. In fact, we have received more individual donations to date than the 2012 tobacco tax initiative had during its entire campaign.”