WashU Expert: Proposed Missouri tobacco tax increase doesn’t go far enough | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
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WashU Expert: Proposed Missouri Tobacco Tax Increase Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Public Health; Policy; Faculty

There is renewed interest by some Missouri groups for a proposed 23-cent-per-pack raise to Missouri’s tobacco tax, currently the nation’s lowest.

While any raise in tobacco prices is one of the most effective ways to reduce and prevent smoking, the modest tax raise does not go far enough, says a tobacco control expert at Washington University in St. Louis.

“The resulting tax rate of 40 cents per pack doesn’t bring us anywhere near the national average of about $1.60 a pack,” said Douglas Luke, PhD, a professor in Washington University’s Brown School and director of its Center for Public Health Systems Science.

“In fact, we would still rank 49th out of 51 states, including Washington, D.C., in the tax rate,” he said.

“The resulting increase in the overall price of a pack of cigarettes is likely to be modest,” Luke said. “Therefore, the public health improvements are also likely to be small.”

Luke said a proposal to phase in any tax increase over a number of years would blunt any positive health effects. “Most of us would be aware of a sudden $1 price increase on something we normally buy. But, a 20 cent increase each year over five years is not as noticeable,” he explained.

The group behind this latest proposal, Luke said, includes the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association.

“This is the same group that led the efforts to defeat the last three tobacco tax increase ballot initiatives, all of which proposed larger tax increase ballot initiatives, all of which proposed larger tax increases,” he said.

“There have been other public health groups who have been planning a new cigarette tax increase initiative,” Luke said. “They were suggesting a larger tax increase. It is a common tactic to propose a weaker policy to make it unlikely that the more effective policy would be adopted. In my opinion, this proposal for a 23-cent increase is just such a tactic.”

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