Lots of items on the November ballot this year, from big national races to the local city council to statewide ballot issues.
One effort that I will encourage you to support is the 73-cent tax increase on cigarettes (not a big surprise if you recall I worked on the citywide effort to deal with second-hand smoke, which passed with 63 percent voter support in a similar high turnout election in November 2006).
Let me make my case.
I think it is good public policy. No, I am not supporting the fabled nanny state that many fear. I want my neighbors to make good choices and lead independent lives, and when they want to make questionable decisions, (and it does not impact my life) let them. But except for the phenomenal power of Big Tobacco, the known carcinogen of tobacco would have been shoveled out the back door of society long ago.
We demand food products free from cancer-causing agents (companies cannot just label the product as including cancer-causing products – we do not allow them on the market), we have long expected pesticides and other common household chemicals to be cleaned of carcinogens, and we are seeking cleaner air to breath as our coal power plants lead to asthma and emphysema (with heavy hits on our kids). Tobacco’s sole purpose is simply a profit making cancer agent. Why do we continue to let Big Tobacco (like the big dogs on Wall Street) to manipulate the lives of hardworking citizens?
Some will counter that everyone should have the freedom to make personal choices that are not in their own self-interest. In general, I agree. We have considerable freedoms in this nation, and one’s personal choice to absorb cancer-causing agents is considered one of them. Only it really is not. The fact is that Big Tobacco runs a highly successful campaign to create the me vs. the world, cop an attitude and be cool, the smoking persona. Since I have never been considered “cool,” I should not stay on this topic long, but being manipulated by Big Tobacco is clearly not cool. If is it cool, then please pony up and cover the billions in health-care costs that us un-cool folks are covering in our “nanny state.”
Sorry folks, the reality is that we, the taxpayers, spend an extra $532 million a year to fund smoking-related health care in our state Medicaid program (I expect the amount to be much higher if we included in the Medicare program as well).
The proposed 73 cents added to the current 17-cent cigarette tax rate in Missouri – the lowest state tax in the nation and well below the average of $1.49 a pack nationwide – will fund additional smoking cessation programs and lots of money back to our financially strapped public school system. The Independence School District is in line to gain about $3 million a year from the cigarette tax increase. As a non-smoker, I think getting more funding for my local schools and have other people carry the tax burden is a great idea. My question is, why are we stopping at a 73-cent tax increase? Why not make it $1.23 tax increase and help my local school district rehire some of the teachers we lost three years ago?
Page 2 of 2 - My friends at Big Tobacco long ago figured out that when you raise the tax rate on cigarettes a large number of kids stop smoking. (Yes, I understand the contradiction with the above paragraph.) For every 10 percent increase in price, RJ Reynolds (yup, one of the nasty Big Tobacco companies) recognizes that youth smoking drops over 11 percent.
So why not save our kids and raise money for the schools at the same time?
Jason White is a former Independence City Council member.