Cigarette companies differ in opinions on Missouri tax debate

A couple of competitor ballot measures try to increase the state's lowest-in-the-nation 17-cents-a-pack tax on tobacco products.

One would request voters to change the state's constitution to increase the tax 60 cents per pack and use the new funds to spend on early childhood schooling. The owner of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., manufacturers of Newport and Camel cigarettes, lately donated $1 million supporting the measure.

Cigarette Brown Filter

The other would ask voters to boost the tobacco tax 23 cents per pack and put the money toward reconditioning of roads. That strategy is being operated by the Missouri Petroleum Markets and Convenience Store Association, a longtime challenger of previous attempts to increase the cigarette tax, and is being mostly financed by smaller, value-brand tobacco companies like Cheyenne International LLC and Xcaliber International Ltd.

Both promotions are looking for the 2016 ballot. And the struggle between Big Tobacco and Little Tobacco could be a determining aspect.

The crucial issue attracting the two parts into the discussion is the fact that for over ten years Missouri lawmakers have rejected the state attorney general's demand to enact a legislation to cancel a pricing advantage that small cigarette manufacturers.

Big cigarette makers like R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, the maker of legendary Marlboro cigarettes, were involved in a 1998 legal arrangement that obligated them to make yearly payments to Missouri to handle the health damage their goods caused those that smoke. Smaller cigarette companies were not included in that arrangement.

Another significant distinction in the two suggestions is a supply in the road funding measure negating the tax increase if any future tobacco tax increase is set on a state or local ballot. That means if a tax increase only shows up on a local ballot, even if it never enacted, the 23-cents-per-pack hike would be completely removed.

In spite of the message of the proposals, a tobacco tax increase deals with a constant fight in Missouri.

Ballot attempts to increase the tax in Missouri dropped to defeat in 2002, 2006 and 2012. But the last promotion lost by less than a percentage point.

A third suggestion to increase the tobacco tax to fund higher education was rejected in the wake of the resignations of top officials at the University of Missouri.