Missouri Proposition B will benefit our state. This proposition, which easily has drawn the loudest opposition of any local issue, advocates a record increase of taxes for the sale of tobacco products. This extra revenue, as stated on the ballot, would be directed solely toward funding Missouri schools and educational programs about the health risks of smoking.
Smoking is a bad habit. It poses health risks for smokers and everyone. In fact, I think one of the main reasons our government continues to tolerate smoking is because we can tax it as a reliable source of state revenue. High taxes probably prevent a more drastic ban on the sale of tobacco products.
This tax has tangible benefits for the Missouri population. First of all, it provides much needed funding for state education. This tax will generate more than $223 million in new funding for education, according to an Oct. 21 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article. I, as well as many other public school students, have felt the effects of the state struggle to support its school systems. Although this revenue only will be a small help to individual schools once it is distributed, minor relief is still relief.
Second, the tobacco education programs funded by this tax increase, as well as the tax increase itself, will further deter young people from picking up this bad habit. It will provide extra incentive for older smokers to quit. Some might say this tax unfairly targets the minority group of smokers, but those who benefit from the motivation to quit smoking will save money in the long run. Health care costs for smoking-related illnesses almost certainly are a greater burden for individuals than this tax.
This brings me to my third point — that illnesses related to tobacco products are an unnecessary burden to the Missouri health care system. Missouri spends $2.13 billion per year for health care costs directly related to smoking, according to an Oct. 21 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article. A strong deterrent to potential new smokers will save our state and its citizens millions or even billions more than it takes away.
Some arguments against this tax increase are that it hurts Missouri businesses, is unfair and sets a precedent for poor public policy.
One of the major standpoints of opponents of this proposition is that this record tax increase will hurt our competitiveness with businesses in neighboring states. However, the only reason this tax increase seems so drastic is that Missouri’s current tax rate of 17 cents per pack is one of the lowest in the country. Even after the tax increase, we will still be lower than the national tax rate of $1.49 per pack, according to an Oct. 21 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article. I also think that threats of reduction of cross-state business cascading into drastic job loss and reduction of state revenue are exaggerated, perhaps grossly so.
I already have mentioned the complaint that this tax unfairly targets a minority of citizens to benefit the majority. A distinction I would like to make here is that this tax would not target any person. It targets products. This doesn’t seem like an important distinction, but I think it is. Few complain that luxury taxes unfairly target the minority of wealthy citizens. There is nothing forcing citizens to smoke except their own addiction. They have tobacco companies to blame for that, not the state of Missouri.
The third major argument of opponents to Prop. B is that it will set the stage for taxes on other publicly disapproved products like soda, alcohol and fast food. This snowball effect, slippery slope argument is one that is used often throughout politics and rarely proves true. It assumes that voters have no sense of where we are and where we are going as a society. It also assumes that voters actually would not support these initiatives throughout the future.
Adam Rollins is a sophomore communication major from St. Charles, Mo.