A tobacco company from tiny Grover, N.C., is leading the charge against a ballot initiative to boost Missouri’s lowest-in-the-nation tax on tobacco products.
According to filings with the Missouri Ethics Commission, Cheyenne International has contributed $181,000 to Enough Taxes Already, a political action committee established in April. No other contributors are listed.
The committee opposes the move to increase Missouri’s cigarette tax of 17 cents a pack by 73 cents and to direct the proceeds to schools and tobacco prevention and cessation programs. (The Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City is a partner and financial contributor to Missourians for Health and Education, the campaign committee working to pass the tax increase.)
The treasurer of Enough Taxes Already is Ralph Brown of Springfield, Mo.
Reached by phone Thursday, Brown would not comment on his ties to Cheyenne International.
“I will not respond to that,” he said.
He referred all questions to Jefferson City attorney Charles W. Hatfield, a partner with the firm of Stinson Morrison Hecker. Hatfield also declined to comment.
Stinson Morrison Hecker is representing Brown as the plaintiff in a Cole County lawsuit challenging the ballot language and fiscal note for the cigarette-tax initiative. The vote is scheduled for Nov. 6.
A profile on the Internet career networking site, LinkedIn, lists a Ralph Brown of Springfield, Mo., as a sales representative for Cheyenne International.
David A. Scott is the company official who signed Cheyenne International’s annual report on file with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office.
Asked Thursday about Brown’s ties to Cheyenne International, Scott said, “Well, he certainly is a friend.” He referred all other questions to Chief Executive Officer Bill Greiwe, who was unavailable for comment Thursday and Friday.
According to Cheyenne International’s website, the 10-year-old company is a “full line tobacco product manufacturer” that sells domestically and internationally. Grover is a town of less than 1,000 residents located near the South Carolina border, about 30 miles southwest of Charlotte, N.C.
According to a June 2008 story in SMOKESHOP Magazine, Greiwe is “a business consultant turned tobacco entrepreneur” who promotes the cause of small companies against Big Tobacco.
The story also said Greiwe has been “very active in fighting excessive tax hikes on tobacco products as well as other government intervention which he believes is unfair or misguided and further inhibits fair trade and growth of new business.”
According to reports on file with the ethics commission, Stinson Morrison Hecker lobbies on behalf of Cheyenne International in Missouri.
As part of its role in collecting the sales tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, the Missouri Department of Revenue certifies tobacco companies allowed to do business in the state. Cheyenne sells nearly 40 products in Missouri, including Aura, Decade and Pulse brand cigarettes.
According to the Missouri Ethics Commission, Missourians for Health and Education has raised nearly $700,000 for the campaign to approve the tax.
The American Cancer Society and other supporters say the increase would generate about $283 million annually in new tax revenue and would save the state approximately $1.4 billion in health care costs from declines in smoking among youths and adults.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York’s cigarette tax is the highest in the nation at $4.35 a pack. The mean cigarette tax among all states increased from $1.34 per pack to $1.46 per pack between 2009 and 2011, according to the center.
As of last year, the CDC said, California, Missouri, and North Dakota remained the only states that had not increased their cigarette excise taxes since 2000.
In 2006, an initiative to increase Missouri’s cigarette tax by 80 cents a pack failed by a margin of 51.4 percent to 48.6 percent. Four years earlier, Missouri voters rejected a proposed 55-cents-a-pack tax by a margin of 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent.
According to The Kansas City Star, tobacco companies spent more than $5 million to help defeat the 2006 plan.
The Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association also opposed the measure. The association’s executive director did not return a phone message left Friday morning.
In a May 21 ruling, Circuit Judge Daniel Green ruled against the challenge filed by Brown. The ruling is subject to appeal.
“We are running our campaign full speed ahead,” said Misty Snodgrass, the cancer society’s government relations director for Missouri.