Missouri Association Seeks Aid

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Missouri Association Seeks Aid

ST. LOUIS -- The Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association is smoking mad over what it deems an insufficient financial commitment from big tobacco companies in its opposition of the state's proposal to boost the cigarette tax by 55 cents.

The lack of support is forcing retailers to mount an offensive against the bill using their own money. The group is set to officially launch its opposition campaign on Oct. 7, said Ronald Leone, executive director of the association. To date, only R.J. Reynolds has pledged $10,000 for the campaign against the increase. The tax, which will appear on the Nov. 5 statewide ballot as Proposition A, is estimated to generate $342 million annually for Missouri.

"The reaction [from tobacco companies] has been a surprise to me because they are not willing to give me the resources to help me effectively compete with Proposition A proponents," Leone told the Associated Press. "It's a very small amount given what we're up against."

Leone said his group and the 300 gas stations and convenience stores it represents in Missouri would have to dig into their own pockets to pay for advertising against the measure. The money would be used mostly for placards that will be placed atop fuel pumps along with literature handed out statewide at gas stations and convenience stores. If passed, the tax on a pack of cigarettes would rise to 72 cents from 17 cents.

Under the current tax, the average price of a pack is about $3.10. Prices under the higher tax are uncertain because it's difficult to predict how, or if, retailers would absorb the tax.

Leone has sought support from various retail groups, but hasn't won commitments. There have also been talks with top tobacco producers that haven't yet produced additional funding, though Leone suggested those firms may organize their own effort, the report said.

Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest domestic cigarette maker, said it is currently considering its options on Proposition A. "At this point we are still determining the best approach we feel we should be taking," Jamie Drogin, a Philip Morris spokeswoman, told the Associated Press. "We plan to communicate with retailers and consumers so they can use the information and make an informed decision."

Brad Ketcher, a spokesman for supporters of the tax increase, who have amassed a $2-million war chest to push the measure, said with five weeks before Election Day, it's too early to dismiss the potential role tobacco companies could play if they get involved.