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Effort To Raise Cigarette Tax Fails (Again)

Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri voters have narrowly defeated an effort to raise the state’s tobacco tax.

If Proposition B had passed, the tax on a pack of cigarettes would have gone from the lowest in the nation, at 17 cents, up to 90 cents.

Ronald Leone heads up the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, the trade organization that led the campaign against the tax increase.

Leone says Prop B would have cost the state tens of millions of dollars in sales tax revenues.

He says he’s thrilled and grateful, but not surprised, by the measure’s defeat.

“For the third time in a decade, common-sense, conservative Missourians saw through the rhetoric, and realized the Prop B tax dollars would be diverted and misspent by bureaucrats and politicians in Jefferson City, just like the lottery and casino monies,” Leone said.

Proponents of the tax increase say the funds would have gone to public education and smoking prevention programs.

Attorney Dudley McCarter is on the board of Missourians for Health and Education, one of the organizations that backed Prop B.

McCarter blames the loss on what he calls “aggressive and deceptive” advertising by the measure’s opponents, that he says led some voters to believe Prop B was a gas tax, and that the state legislature couldn’t be trusted to spend the tax revenue on education.

“Whatever strategy that seems to work, and seems to have some support from voters, will be countered by the opponents with some type of deceptive and misleading advertisement, and it’s happened every time,” McCarter said.

Previous attempts to raise the state’s cigarette tax by popular vote in 2002 and 2006 also failed.

McCarter says Prop B would have helped bring down smoking and lung cancer rates, and raised much-needed funds for Missouri’s schools.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience