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Tobacco Tax Debate Heating Up

One of the most important issues at the ballot this November will be Missouri’s tobacco tax.A group called “Show Me a Brighter Future” kicked off a statewide bus tour to advocate an increase that would make the tax 73 cents. Already, opponents are launching attacks against the initiative.Recently, signs for “Vote No for Proposition B” have been popping up in the area. The opponents’ argument now is a difference in how Missouri will make up the money and who will be the ones to benefit.Ron Leone with the Missouri Petroleum Marketers says a $3 pack of cigarettes is already taxed at 46 percent. He believes if tobacco is taxed any higher, Missourians will end up paying for it.”There is no product on the face of the earth, let alone in Missouri, that’s taxed at that high a rate today and yet people are saying it’s not taxed enough,” said Leone.Leone says with the proposed tax increase, 157 million fewer packs of cigarettes will be sold, which means a $67 million loss in revenue.”That means you and I, all tax payers, smokers and non-smokers alike are going to have to fill that $67 million hole,” he said.Leone believes that having the lowest tobacco tax in the county at just 17 cents has brought in smokers from Kansas, Nebraska, Kentucky and Tennessee. Those smokers travel to take advantage of the lower prices, but may not anymore if the tax increase is approved.Representative Chris Kelly says with the 73 cent raise, Missouri would still be lower than Illinois, Iowa and Arkansas. He does not believe the idea that taxpayers would foot the bill in the long run, calling the idea “nonsense.”Kelly says portraying the measure as a 760 percent increase is deceptive. Instead, he says it’s a very tiny percent of the overall tax burden that won’t even affect a person who does not smoke.However, Leone says that’s the problem.”We think it’s poor public policy for the majority to tax a minority, because there are fewer and fewer smokers,” Leone said.”That minority of people costs the state a half a billion dollars a year,” said Kelly. “I want to quit subsidizing them so much.”Rep. Kelly says the tax will benefit education but Leone says the benefits of the tax increase have been exaggerated.Leone and Kelly will square off in a tobacco tax forum at the University of Missouri Thursday at 6 p.m.

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