Historically, one of the most effective strategies for reducing smoking has been to increase the cost of tobacco through higher taxes. According to the American Lung Association, a 10 percent increase in tobacco cost reduces consumption by about 4 percent among adults and 7 percent among youth. Each year, 6,500 Missouri youth start smoking, while 2,900 start smoking in Kansas.
Despite the positive health impact of higher taxes, however, increasing tobacco taxes has proven difficult in Missouri, where three unsuccessful attempts were made in 2002, 2006 and 2012. Unlike many other states, substantial tax increases in Missouri must be voted on by the public per the Hancock Amendment. This requirement limits the power of state and local government to increase revenue or to pursue public health objectives through tax increases.
As a result, Missouri now holds the dubious distinction of having the lowest tobacco tax rate in the country, at 17 cents per pack. In contrast, the national average is $1.60 per pack. The rate in Missouri has not been increased since 1993, when it was raised 4 cents.
The 2006 attempt was spearheaded by the Missouri Hospital Association but lacked the coordinated efforts of a robust coalition. The 2012 campaign, called Show-Me a Brighter Future, was led by the American Cancer Society and HCF. The ballot initiative narrowly failed due to public resistance to tax increases and mistrust of government spending. In the wake of the defeat, collaboration between statewide advocates has waned.
Some advocates nonetheless remain convinced that increasing the tobacco tax should continue to be a priority. And although recent efforts have come up short, tobacco prevention advocacy has undeniably led to increased public awareness about the risks of tobacco use.
Kansas has fared better than its eastern neighbor when it comes to higher tobacco taxes. In 2003, Kansas policy makers raised the state’s tobacco tax from 70 cents to 79 cents. More recently, budget woes forced legislators to raise the tax again by 50 cents. The new 2015 combined tax of $1.29 makes the cigarette tax in the state the 31st highest in the nation.
Ed. Note: This is an excerpt from our Decade of Difference report. Read more about the region’s tobacco prevention efforts over the past decade.