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Health care organizations lineup on both sides of Amendment 3


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – When it comes to Amendment 3, how health groups fit in might depend on which ones you ask.

Advocacy groups like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network – ACS CAN, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Healthcare Foundation of Greater Kansas City and Tobacco Free Missouri, along with some health research groups, have come out in opposition to the amendment.

On the other hand, health care providers like Children’s Mercy Hospital and SSM Health have endorsed a yes vote on the amendment.

Amendment 3 would raise the tobacco tax by 60 cents over a period of several years, ultimately raising about $300 million annually for the state. The amendment would then direct most of those funds to pay for early childhood education.

For the advocacy groups, the provision doesn’t raise the tax nearly enough. They also find campaign funding by “Big Tobacco,” mostly RAI Industries, to be troubling.

“Voters should be alarmed that those who profit from keeping smokers addicted have hijacked worthwhile causes by forcing Missourians to settle for a paltry increase in the tobacco tax that will not deter smoking,” the groups said in a joint statement in August. “Small and incremental increases to the tobacco tax 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.”

Last week, Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City, who supports the amendment, criticized that logic.

“They remind me of my daughter who throws temper tantrums when she only gets one scoop of ice cream,” he told the Missouri Times. He cited other attempts in which the groups would only accept all or nothing change.

“However, they continue to take positions that are contrary to the mission of making people healthier, and I believe those reasons are largely selfish,” he said. “That makes me sad more than anything.”

While these health advocacy groups have opposed the amendment, health care providers have endorsed it. For them, the amendment will provide critical health care for young children.

Supporters point out that the amendment would preventative health care and health and developmental screenings for children ages birth to five as well as smoking cessation programs for pregnant mothers and youth.

The Maternal, Child & Family Health Coalition, which represents more than 200 agencies and consumer groups to provide a vehicle for examining issues related to the health care of women and children in the St. Louis region, endorsed the amendment last month.

“We believe that all families have the equal right to barrier-free access to health and wellness programs,” said Kendra Copanas, the group’s executive director. “If Amendment 3 passes, our state would receive $300 million every year in guaranteed funding. That would be a tremendous win for the health of moms and babies, particularly in the area of infant mortality, thanks to the millions of dollars going to smoking-cessation programs for pregnant mothers.”

Overall, it appears as though the divergent opinions from health groups depends on where they’re involved in the process. Organizations involved in providing health care see an opportunity to serve more people with more available cash.

On the other side, groups that advocate and look at the big picture think that getting in bed with “Big Tobacco” would set a dangerous precedent. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said as much when it responded to LaFaver last week.

“Our public policy positions are formed only after an exhaustive review process that includes the examination of scientific evidence and data to determine if a policy will effectively reduce the burden of cancer. Our sole purpose is to save lives and create a world with less cancer,” the organization said in a statement. “ACS CAN and its partners will continue to advocate for truly evidence-based, effective policies to reduce the burden of tobacco in Missouri. It would be a disservice to our mission and volunteers to be complacent to policy changes crafted and supported by the tobacco industry that are designed to protect their profits and keep smokers addicted in Missouri.”