Health advocates propose raising MO cigarette tax - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Health advocates propose raising MO cigarette tax

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) -

It's an issue that gets people on both sides fired up. Should Missouri raise its cigarette tax? Voters may soon get another chance to weigh in as the proposal could make it on the ballot for the November 2012 general election.

Missouri currently has the lowest cigarette tax in the nation. It's something health advocates want to change by raising the tax by 80 cents a pack.

"It's people's choice to smoke", said Jeremy Pierce of Jackson.

With the proposed increase, the cigarette tax could jump from 17 cents to 97 cents.

"That's ridiculous," said Pierce. "They want to charge us more for something we've been doing for years."

Many smokers cross the state line to buy cigarettes like Lawrence Jackson from Anna.

"In Illinois they increased the tax and were supposed to use money for certain things and haven't done it", said Jackson. 

If voters approve this initiative, reportedly 50-percent of the money generated would go to elementary and secondary education.

30-percent would go to colleges and universities to train healthcare workers, and 20-percent would go toward tobacco prevention and programs to help people quit smoking.

"If they use the tax increase for what they say it's for I'm all for it," said Gail Gant of Marble Hill." I don't smoke, but I'm all for it."

According to the American Cancer Society, Missouri spends about $2 billion a year on healthcare linked to smoking.

The American Cancer Society also says bout 21-percent of Missourians smoke. Health advocates predict that number will drop if it costs more to light up.

"In every state that has ever introduced this kind of legislation has seen a decrease in the number of youth who start smoking," said Sheri House-Community Manager/Health Initiative American Cancer Society. 

In a state where similar measures have failed in the past, once again it's up to voters.

"The first one to jump on is the smokers and it's not fair," said Lawrence Jackson. 

"If they don't want to pay it, don't smoke," said Gail Gant. 

Voters took up this issue back in 2002 and 2006.

Both times it was pretty close in Cape Girardeau County.

In 2002 on Proposition A in Cape County, 9, 761 people voted yes and 12, 290 voted no.

In 2006 on Amendment 3 in Cape County, 12, 989 voted yes and 14, 981 voted no.

If approved, the tax hike is expected to generate about $308 million a year in new revenue.

According to Sheri House with the American Cancer Society, the language in the proposition will need to be approved by the Secretary of State. House says that is something that could take up to 30 days. After approved, health advocates supporting this measure would begin gathering signatures.

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