Voters in Missouri may soon be asked to substantially increase the taxes on cigarettes to help pay for health care costs in the state. Two bills are slowly making their way through the legislature but on Wednesday a coalition of health groups announced their own plans. All three options would hike cigarette taxes. The only question is "how much?".
Missouri smokers pay 17 cents on each pack of cigarettes in state taxes. But that relatively small tax ranks Missouri near the bottom of the list of state cigarette taxes. Whether these measures advance during this session of the General Assembly is questionable. But the day will come when we'll be asked to hike those taxes.
As a non-proud smoker, I agree that a higher cigarette tax may be the best option to address health issues related primarily to smoking. It is not an appealing option but it may be the best one available.
Some advocates say the tobacco lawsuit settlement money should all go to address health issues. That will likely never happen because the state is already tapping into those funds to help shore-up a sagging state budget. You can argue all day if this is a right purpose for those funds but it really doesn't matter. The tobacco settlement funds will be depleted long before the health issues are resolved.
Granted, I am somewhat uneasy with taxing the public to pay for health care issues through Medicaid for lifelong smokers who consistently failed to heed warnings over the hazards of smoking. But somehow and some way those costs must be covered. A higher cigarette tax is the least offensive to me.
The larger issue here is not smoking - it's how to address the exploding costs of health care in Missouri for those without insurance coverage. Medicaid expenditures already take 15 percent of the state budget. That figure will go up long before it comes down. Tax increases will solve some of the problems. But the real issue remains.
No one has yet devised an answer for this issue. And despite all of the words that come out of Jefferson City and Washington, D. C., no one is even close to an answer.