Lawmaker wants statewide vote to increase MO cigarette tax

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS/AP) - A Missouri House member wants to ask voters to raise the state cigarette tax by 81 cents a pack.

Democrat Chris Kelly, of Columbia, outlined his plan Thursday to a House committee. He's proposing a future statewide vote on whether to raise Missouri's current 17-cent tax - the lowest in the nation - to 98 cents per pack.

Kelly says the increase could generate $425 million in state revenue, discourage people from smoking and bring down state health care costs.

Officials from Missouri's convenience store industry say raising  the tax would hurt their business. They say Missouri's cigarette tax rate gives it an advantage over nearby states with higher rates.

"I think a lot of people drive over from Illinois to get their cigarettes because they are cheaper here," said convenience store employee Jordan Orick.   "And I doubt that people are going to continue coming here if they go up and they're the same price."

Pulmonologist Dr. Khalid Kahn agrees.  "I think the people that already smoke, it's probably going to not make much difference," Khan said.

Several smokers echoed Kahn's statement, saying they've been addicted too long and don't think they could quit if they tried.  "We see people that have lung cancer, we take part of their lung out, and a few months down the line they're smoking again," Khan said.

However, Laci Beasley disagrees, saying she thinks smokers will still buy in Missouri, higher tax or not, simply for a form of convenience.

"Being from Illinois, I feel that they will still drive over here because there's nothing to do," Beasley said.  "Everybody has to come over here anyway, so they might as well just buy cigarettes here."

Heartland smokers might now travel to Tennessee or Kentucky, where both of those states still only have a tax in the 60 cent range.

Copyright 2011 KFVS. All rights reserved.