Talking Politics: Missouri Tobacco Tax Increase Fails To Decrease Smoking Rates

Nov 7, 2016

Jordan Hester is a sales associate at We B Smokin & Drinkin in Jefferson City, Missouri and has been a smoker for 12 years. He spends his days selling the one thing that he is trying to quit: cigarettes.

Hester has worked there for two years, and is on a first-name basis with his customers. When there is an increase on the price of cigarettes, Hester is the first person to hear their complaints.

“They would notice a tax increase real quick,” Hester said. “They notice if you ring up a lighter too many.”

Despite cigarette tax increases, some of his customers admit the price wouldn’t make a difference. Studies show that it doesn’t matter how much of an increase there is in tobacco taxes because smokers are going to continue to pay a high price to fuel their addiction, regardless of the health effects.

Almost 10,000 people in Missouri die every year from tobacco-related diseases.

Secondhand smoke causes about 1,150 deaths in Missouri every year. As of 2013, the smoking rate for adults in Missouri was 22.1 percent, which is the ninth highest in the United States, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Health officials said the tax on tobacco products is too low to have an effect on smoking rates. The current tax on a pack of cigarettes is 17 cents, the lowest tax in the nation.

Stacy Reliford, who is the Missouri government relations director for the American Cancer Society, said that Missouri needs a tobacco tax increase. Reliford said that this increase needs to be much larger in order to make a difference and save lives.

“Tobacco taxes work when the price increase is substantial enough to motivate current smokers to quit and prevent kids from starting,” Reliford said. “A dime here or there is not sufficient.”

The current tax increase measures that are on the Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 ballot in Missouri are Amendment 3 and Proposition A. Amendment 3 seeks to increase the tax by 60 cents per pack of cigarettes by 2020. This would mean there is now a 77 cent tax per pack. Proposition A seeks to increase the tax by 23 cents per pack of cigarettes by 2021. This would mean there would be a 40 cent tax per pack.

If these ballot measures don’t pass, the tobacco tax would remain at 17 cents per pack.

Wendy Max, who is a professor of health and economics and the co-director of the Institute for Health & Aging at the University of California San Francisco did research on the effects of tobacco tax increases on smoking rates. Max found that in the state of California, an increase in the tobacco tax would not only decrease the smoking rates, but also save billions in health care expenditures because fewer people would get sick.    

Dr. Bridget McCandless, who is the president and CEO of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, agrees that the tobacco tax is too low to make a significance difference on smoking rates.  

“Tobacco taxes are like antibiotics—dose matters,” McCandless said. “A drop here and there does nothing. With tobacco taxes, the dose needs to be strong enough to affect the choices of purchasers.”   

According to Max’s research and data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, there probably won’t be a decrease in smoking rates because neither proposed tax increase is large enough to make an impact on buyers’ habits.  

Sandra Vanwinkle, a customer of We B Smokin & Drinkin, smoked cigarettes all her life until her mom passed away of lung cancer. She now feeds her sister’s addiction by purchasing cigarettes for her weekly.      

“I think that no matter how high the tax goes, and as long as she has the money, she is never going to quit smoking until she passes,” Vanwinkle said.