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Smoking, the most preventable cause of disability and death in Missouri, causes nearly 10,000 Missourian deaths each year, according to the Missouri Department of Health. To combat this problem, Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, proposed HB 1478, which would raise cigarette taxes by 72 cents per pack.
This action deserves applause. Raising the tax serves two primary purposes: to generate revenue for public education and to better Missouri health in general.
An increased tax will generate money “to be used for public education purposes,” according to the bill, and the Columbia Missourian reported the tax could generate as much as $400 million. In times of economic hardship such as now, there have been budget slashes across the board; increasing the tobacco tax provides a quick and necessary supplement to help resolve this problem.
In addition to providing new funding for schools, the bill will act as a deterrent to those who smoke, as all excise taxes do. By increasing the price of cigarettes, some smokers will quit using tobacco products and save even more money for the state.
Each year, Missouri spends nearly $2 billion to treat smoking-related illnesses, according to Missouri Department of Health. Of the adult state population, 23.1 percent smoke; of these people, 54.5 percent want to quit. Increasing the tobacco tax will provide a much needed incentive for them to stop, while generating revenue for the state in the process.
Smoking has a strongly negative impact on the currently floundering economy. Smoking-attributed productivity losses cost Missouri about $2.5 million a year, according to the Missouri Department of Health. In addition, each household in the state pays $585 a year in state and federal tax dollars on smoking-related problems, like caring for newborns suffering because their mothers smoked during pregnancy. This problem alone costs Missouri $10 million a year. A simple way to mitigate all of these problems is to implement a better deterrent to using tobacco products, such as the higher excise tax HB 1478 proposes.
Some critics may say this bill will affect the poor more than the wealthy, since it will be difficult for poorer addicted smokers to pay the price. Currently, smokers spend around $2,000 a year on cigarettes on average, according to statistics released by the Missouri Department of Health. That’s about 523 packs a year, which means each smoker would spend an extra $376.56. While this seems to be a lot, it could also be the necessary incentive for people to stop smoking, thus saving lives.
Students should back the passing of this bill. Since representatives of Missouri, and more specifically Columbia, proposed the bill, it is a simple matter to contact our representatives, like Still, via email or phone and show our support by asking what we can do to help. In addition, encourage peers who are smoking to try to quit. While a major purpose of the bill is to raise revenue, it is equally important to try to improve the health and habits of the general population, starting with the youth.
By The ROCK staff