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    Voters to Weigh in on Cigarette Tax

    Missouri's November ballot will ask residents whether they support 80-cent-a-pack hike.

    JEFFERSON CITY, Miss. -- Residents in this state will have a chance to vote on whether to increase the tax on cigarettes by 80 cents a pack now that a judge reversed Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan's decision to keep a statewide ballot item on the increase off the Nov. 7 ballot, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported.

    Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown has ruled that roughly 1,000 signatures went uncounted in an initial tally of Missouri's Fifth Congressional District, which includes much of Kansas City. The newly validated petitions bridge the 237-signature gap needed to put the measure on the November ballot, the newspaper said.

    Missouri's 17-cent tax on a pack of cigarettes is the second-lowest in the nation, behind South Carolina, which imposes a 7-cent tax. Among surrounding states, the tax in Iowa is 36 cents; Kansas, 79 cents; Illinois, 98 cents; and Oklahoma, $1.03.

    If voters approve the measure, the tax on a pack of cigarettes in Missouri would increase to 97 cents, which would be the 22nd-highest in the nation. The measure also would put a 20 percent tax on "other tobacco products," according to the report.

    According to a July study from the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the average cost of cigarettes in Missouri is $3.43. That would rise to $4.23 after the proposed tax increase.

    Marc Ellinger, an attorney for the anti-initiative, Missourians Against Tax Abuse, said his group is filing an expedited appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals Western District.

    The pro-initiative, Committee for a Healthy Future, now will have to convince Missourians who rejected a smaller, 55-cent increase four years ago that their plan is worthwhile, the Columbia Daily Tribune said.

    Committee spokeswoman Cindy Erickson said the 2002 ballot item failed because there were concerns from voters that the General Assembly would spend the funds on issues unrelated to health care and tobacco prevention. This time around, she said the ballot language specifically earmarks the estimated $351 million annual income from the tax to smoking prevention and health-care programs.

    Plans call for the money to be distributed as follows: health care services; Medicaid payments to primary-care doctors and specialists; anti-tobacco efforts; trauma centers and emergency rooms that treat Medicaid and uninsured patients; health-care clinics for uninsured; and emergency ambulance services for Medicaid patients.

    "What we've done is we've listened to the citizens, and we are taking steps to ensure that the funding that is raised is used toward smoking related diseases as well as prevention," Erickson said.

    Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said the proponents of a tobacco tax increase are misleading the public about where the tax money would go.

    "Eighty percent will end up fattening the wallets of the greedy HMOs, drug companies and hospitals," Leone said. "They're trying to hoodwink the voters in creating their own constitutional slush fund."

    Leone predicted Missouri voters would not take to what he calls a 470 percent increase on tobacco taxes. "No matter how much perfume they put on this pig, it'll still be a pig," Leone said.

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