Missouri Rejects Higher Cigarette Tax

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Missouri Rejects Higher Cigarette Tax

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- By the time all the ballots were counted yesterday, Missouri voters had snuffed out Proposition A, a tax increase on cigarettes and other tobacco that would have raised about $342 million a year. It was the second time this year voters rejected a major tax increase that could have hurt convenience store and petroleum marketers in Missouri.

In August, voters obliterated Proposition B, a $483 million sales and gasoline tax increase for highways, by a ratio of nearly 3-to-1, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Opponents of Proposition A included the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, whose members contributed about $50,000 to fight the tax increase.

Collectively, Proposition A opponents raised about $100,000. The size of the tax increase was a big strike against it, said Ron Leone, executive vice president of the marketers group.

Boosting the state tax on a pack of cigarettes to 72 cents a pack, from the current 17 cents a pack, was "greedy," Leone said. In addition, he stressed that only 7 percent of the money raised would have gone to smoking prevention programs. The rest of the money "was just really kind of a health care slush fund," he said.

Convenience store customers saw signs on top of gas pumps that stressed the size of the tax increase. When they paid for their gas, they got fliers opposing the proposal, Leone said.

Lana Stein, a former smoker who now heads the political science department at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, said Proposition A was a regressive tax, hitting low-income people who tend to smoke more than others. The measure also had to overcome the perception that it was unfair, singling out smokers. "It had sort of a vindictiveness to it," she said.

Supporters of proposal said it would pay for hospital trauma care, early childhood education and smoking prevention efforts. Proponents said they didn't have enough time to combat the perception that the money from Proposition A might have been wasted, the report said.

Secretary of State Matt Blunt first said in August that proponents had not gathered enough votes to put the measure on the ballot. Supporters challenged his ruling, and a judge said in September the measure should go before voters. That left just six weeks to sell one of the single largest tax increases in state history. Citizens for a Healthy Missouri spent about $4 million on the campaign, after raising almost $5 million over the last two years to work on health care issues, said a spokesman, Brad Ketcher.

The campaign bought television and radio ads and pushed its case through automated phone calls from former U.S. Senator John Danforth (R-Mo.) But they ran out of time. "I think that shortness of time really hurt us in our ability to communicate that story to voters," he said.