JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - South Carolina once boasted the lowest cigarette excise tax in the U.S., but that distinction now goes to Missouri. A pack of cigarettes in the Show Me State costs about $5.14 a pack €" a strong contrast to about $13 a pack in say, New York City.
Perhaps you can call Missouri the last state standing. Efforts to raise the cigarette tax have been repeatedly shut down at the polls and in the Legislature. And at 17 cents per pack, Missouri "remains determined to keep its cigarette taxes (and beer taxes too) at permanently low levels," reports Time magazine.
Missouri state Rep. Mary Still isn€™t giving up; she€™s drafting a bill to increase the state€™s cigarette excise tax by 12 cents each year for eight years. However, she€™s got her work cut out for her: Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, is maintaining a no-new-taxes pledge.
And according to the state€™s constitution, any major tax increase has to go before voters. "In 2006, a proposal to raise the cigarette tax to 97 cents a pack lost a hard-fought referendum, 51% to 49%. Hospitals and health advocates poured millions into the campaign for the tax; opposition came from the tobacco lobby, gas stations and convenience stores. Posters at minimarts and filling stations across the state called for voters to 'Stop Tax Abuse€™ and vote down a '470%€™ tax increase," writes Time.
The magazine continues that opponents of the tax increase maintain higher taxes on tobacco are regressive and hit the lower-class residents the hardest. Also, Missouri€™s low taxes benefit the state because of cross-border sales coming from eight neighboring states.
"The anti-tobacco zealots are not trying to reasonably regulate," Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, told Time. "Their goal is prohibition. It's hard to negotiate with these people. They can't prohibit it, so they're trying to kill it by a thousand cuts."
Leone explains that the federal cigarette tax is $1.01 per pack, and combined with state and local taxes, Missouri smokers pay 46% in taxes on a pack of popular budget brands, while brand names are taxed at more than 30%. "There is no other product on the market that's overtaxed like that," said Leone.